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Something Big (1971)
It's all in fun, folks! Well, mostly.
Dino must have had fun making this one; lots of great familiar faces in there with him: Brian Keith as the gruff cavalry colonel, Honor Blackman (Bond girl 'Pussy Galore') as the colonel's classy tough-girl wife, Ben Johnson as the laconic cavalry scout, Albert Salmi at his brutish best, Merlin Olsen, Harry Carey Jr., Denver Pyle... and Joyce Van Patten as one of two hilarious man-hungry sisters. It's definitely dated --the 'Indians' especially are pretty embarrassing seen today--, but taken in a light-hearted spirit it's a pretty good ride. I'm sure this is preaching to the choir for those who have fond memories of watching it years ago.
The Marvin Hamlisch score is meant to give it a stylish air, a la Butch and Sundance (we can each judge if we think this succeeds), and Burt Bacharach confected a title song that will either make you smile or cringe, according to your taste. The rating was 'GP', and aside from plenty of casual murder it's not apt to shock too many viewers. The theme of abducting a woman to trade to a sex-starved lowlife (Salmi) for a Gatling gun in order to pillage a Mexican bandido's treasure trove is made to seem somehow sensible, though when the first potential abductee appears and is an amiable and attractive floozy, one is baffled that outlaw Baker (Dino) and his Scottish sidekick (brother of Baker's prissy fiancee) reject her as unsuitable. Well, the plot needed more complications...
Dino's character is supposedly a staid New Englander having a wild fling out West and accomplishing Something Big before settling down to permanent respectability, but come on-- Dino as a staid New Englander?? And we never see any real sign of Mr. Baker's staid side anyway, except in favoring a lady over a floozy (to do a floozy's job). Well, realism isn't the point here, so you might as well just put your brain in neutral and go along with it in the spirit in which it was presented.
Antony and Cleopatra (1972)
Not quite a temptress...
I think Heston delivers a very fine Marc Antony, and despite the limitations of the Elizabethan script, one closer to the historical Antony than say, Richard Burton's rather neurotic (if charismatic) non-Shakespearean take on the role. Antony was a hero of his time, sort of a rock star to the Romans, and was reputed to have been descended from Hercules. In John Castle's terse portrayal, Octavian is well served as the master manipulator he truly was. Rome explained Cleopatra's partnership with Antony as the folly of a Roman unmanned by an exotic temptress, and since after all the winner gets to write the history, this is the version handed down to us.
I have a real problem with Hildegard Neil's Cleo, however. I know she can act, but she just doesn't work as the glittering siren Shakespeare intended. She's actually a Londoner, but her Cleopatra seems more like some modern Newport socialite. We see Antony falling head over heals for this person, and you just have to say "go figure!" Carmen Sevilla's beautiful Octavia has considerably more physical allure, though of course she's portrayed as frigid and no competition for the Nile temptress. (The historical Octavia was one heck of a lady, and later brought up some of Antony's children by Cleopatra.)
One of the standouts in this cast is Jane Lapotaire's luminous Charmian, for my money a much more compelling presence than the supercilious and somehow tacky Cleo. In 1981 Lapotaire was in fact cast as Cleopatra in an Elizabethan-dress BBC production of A&C, but to mixed reviews.
Anyway, this 1972 version of Shakespeare's version of the Roman version of Antony and Cleopatra's story is well worth a look, and its flaws are easily overlooked.
A triumph in London!
I haven't seen this picture myself yet, but am gratified to see that it is available on video and that quite a few people seem to be inclined to find it enjoyable. I'll certainly add my own impressions once I've taken it in personally. I might even read the book.
American humorist H. Allen Smith, who wrote the novel on which this film was based, was in London at the time "Rhubarb" had its premier there and found its reception to be less than rhapsodic. The English, in short, just didn't 'get' it. While browsing through the various London papers, as he reported, "...a great and shining experience falls to my lot... now like a sunburst it leaped from the pages of the Evening Standard. I have, in a sense, been recognized by the hallowed institutions of British criticism... here in this ancient capital of literary excellence."
Herewith, the review:
THE FILM: Rhubarb (Carlton). THE STARS: Ray Milland, Jan Sterling. COMMENT: Beastly. My intelligence is not of a calibre to be easily insulted, but it is still recoiling hurt and cross from contact with this stupendous drivel. A millionaire, dissatisfied with his relations, leaves all his possessions, including a failing baseball team, to an alley cat which, because of its ferocity and its peculiar predilection for collecting golf balls, appeals to him as a champion of individualism. Ray Milland, for whose presence in such a dire disaster we have to curse Paramount, is made the cat's guardian. Jan Sterling, as his fiancee, is allergic to cats, or rather to this one cat, and has a sneezing fit every time she gets within range. As for the wretched cat, a large beast liable, through amplification, to snarl like a tiger, roar like a lion and purr like a faulty cistern, it has one hell of a time. Constantly draped over people's arms, swung on chandeliers, chased by dogs, photographed, wrapped in curtains, trapped in nets and attending baseball games, it cannot fail to make everyone, including people allergic to cats, allergic to the manufacturers of this film. Lacking all wit, grace, humour or charm, power or poetry, this picture should be placed near where rhubarb grows best-- the rubbish heap.
Added Smith: "One reads it agayne and agayne, savoring the words, testing each lilting phrase, and one realizes that giants of critical acumen still walk the Strand in the footsteps of Samuel Johnson, Pope, Matthew Arnold, Beerbohm, Carlyle, McCall, Chesterton, Shaw, and the unknown scribbler who said that Piers Plowman smelt to high heaven."
Madame la Presidente (1916)
A True Delight, By All Accounts-- and a Surviving Film
I'm giving this top marks, though I haven't seen it yet. I hope to! UCLA has a print, so there may be a way to get a look. Barring that, I've rounded up a few contemporary newspaper reviews, which are uniformly enthusiastic-- though let it be said that it was considered a bit too French for the nice folks in Kansas and parts were censored. Included last is a writeup on this.
The La Crosse (WI) Tribune of Saturday, April 8th, 1916 had this to say: The film version of Madame La Presidente, starring Anna Held --produced by the Oliver Morosco Photoplay company-- has not lost that spirit instilled by its French authors, that make this stage play such a complete success, not only in the European capitals, London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna, but in New York as well. Photo production rather has added to the exceptional attraction of the story, not only because Anna Held is playing the name-part but also the scope of the stage is not to be compared to the facilities, that were used and the expenditure that was made to bring this forth as a film play supreme. "Madame la Presidente" leaves that happy, contented feeling of having seen the best of all photo-comedies.
The Lincoln (NE) Star, Monday, March 6th, 1916: Everybody has heard of Anna Held who appears Friday and Saturday in the film version of "Madame La Presidente." A distinct novelty of this picture is the chance to see her do exclusively in pantomime her world-famous song, "I Just Can't Make My Eyes Behave,'' a song she has sung to countless thousands throughout the world. That she "gets it over," in the theatre phrase, without uttering a note is eloquent proof of her power as an expressionist.
The Coshocton, Ohio Tribune, Sunday, April 30th Sunday and Monday we will have a great Paramount featuring Anna Held. Ejected from the Hotel Boulonge after a gay party, Anna Held calmly establishes herself for the night in the home of Augustin Galipaux, the judge issuing the order. As Mme. Galipaux just left for Paris, this makes extremely amusing complications. The flabbergasted magistrate's surrender to both Anna Held's threats and charms would he a story in itself were not the true zest of "Madame La Presidente" enacted shortly afterwards in no less a place than the respected old Ministry of Justice in Paris, when the august Minister himself takes up the task of the gay soubrette's cavalier. "Madame la Presidente" presents the world famous Anna Held in pictures for the first time. This French classic is splendidly presented by the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Company.
The Topeka State Journal, Wednesday, February 9th, 1916 SAVES KANSAS AGAIN! The Rev. Festus Foster Censors Anna Held's Show. As though Kansas needed someone to revive the days of grasshoppers, drouths, Populism, Mary Elizabeth Lease, "Sockless" Jerry Simpson and the more recent Cones "patella" bill, the Reverend Festus Foster has stepped into the breach. Now Anna Held, the actress, is willing to take oath --in zipping, ripping French accent-- that all the legends of Kansas vagaries are exemplified in the action of the Reverend Mr. Foster in rejecting the "Madame La Presidente" film. Continuing his course of guiding and safeguarding the tender morals of Kansas, the Reverend Mr. Foster rejected the new French film in which Anna Held starred. This week Anna Held is appearing in a Kansas City theater. If the Reverend Festering Foster --using the appellation of a number of disgusted Topeka club women-- should visit Kansas City this week, Anna Held will put reverse English on her speech when she tells the personal representative, of W.D. Ross, state superintendent, just what she thinks of his action. Sliced the Film. Several days ago the Reverend Festus Foster felt that a moral shock was about to overtake Kansas. So he sliced about 100 feet of Anna Held's best work from the popular French farce in which Fannie Ward made a notable success. It was all done, of course, to safeguard innocent, unsophisticated, pure minded Kansas from a blush of shame. When Anna Held heard of the action, though, she shrugged her alabastine shoulders --under cover of course-- and reaffirmed a growing impression that the vagaries of the human mind are quite beyond the realm of worldly knowledge. "I am sure," she said, as only she could say it, "I do not know. It ees unknowable, monsieur, ze vagaries of ze human mind. I assure you, zere is nothing shocking. I do not, I never have, monsieur, played ze shocking. It ees so commonplace I cannot understand. A leetle lingerie here, a leetle exuberance there, and perhaps a daring situation-- zat ees all. "But, tiens, I am Parisienne enough I do not need ze situation; I can make anyzing wicked if I choose wiz my eyes what cannot behave, eh, and other zingz but nozzing like that in 'Madame La Presidente:' not a zing."
Now that VHS is considered obsolete (though I still find it perfectly acceptable, easy to record on and cheap or free) it's easy to build up a great film library for nearly nothing or nothing. So while browsing the ten cent videos at the thrift store I thought that a dime could be hazarded on something that might be worth watching.Mistake. Ten cents is too much to pay for this dismal mess. I have fond memories of watching the first installment back in the 80s, never bothered with the second, and sincerely regret having even discovered the existence of #3.
On the bright side, my dime wasn't actually wasted because I can record over it.
Dorotka a plamínek (1976)
Cautionary fantasy about the dangers of fire
This is a bit modern in style for my taste, but it's a very watchable piece. Little Dorothy is lucky to have an extremely intelligent parrot at hand, since her parents are nowhere in evidence. Fire is fun! The parrot discourages the child's first foray into pyromania, but is literally caught napping when she lights a lamp in the attic. The flame becomes a magical entity that enchants and entertains her, then turns nasty. I was ready for this part to turn out as a dream sequence, but no, it's all real-- at least in the context of the cartoon's internal reality, which doesn't seem to include electricity in the attic.
Pudgy Picks a Fight (1937)
Pudgy and the Green-Eyed Monster
Okay, the premise is Pudgy witnessing Betty petting and cooing over her new fox fur, and being heartbroken at her faithlessness. Then, of course, Betty goes out, leaving the fox within easy reach of its jealous rival. Pudgy attacks! The fox's dangling paw seems to return his first blows, and the battle is on!
After a wild flurry of canine and vulpine bodies, the fox is stretched limply on the floor. Ha! Pudgy, with his usual mix of canine and human behavior, then notices that the fox has no pulse, no breath-- HORRORS! It's murder! The little dog then goes through frantic efforts to resuscitate his victim, all of course in vain. He suffers untold agonies of guilt and remorse at his deed, hallucinating various reprisals; only Betty can save him now! It's really an unusual outing for this little character, and well worth a look.
The Pups' Christmas (1936)
Mild kiddie fare with a dash of poison
It's MGM with puppies, so you can be pretty sure of saccharine cuteness throughout-- and yet this rather unfocused piece turns uneasily dark... Two realistic small boys and their sister come downstairs on Christmas Eve to see what Santa's brought, followed by Black Pup and Brown Pup. Santa seems to have brought enough to stock an entire toy store and half a pet store as well!
The pups react quite naturally when encountering all these new objects, and I thought Black Pup's bristling at a large stuffed dog particularly amusing in a mild way. The little girl exclaims over the new doll that says 'Mama', while the boys wind up a train, ride a trike, and then --fatefully-- wind up a toy tank, which brings it to conscious and malevolent life.
At this point the cartoon seems to have been taken over by someone new; the children disappear, presumably having returned to bed, and leaving the pups in possession of the field. Brown Pup is discovered to have dismembered the 'Mama' doll, and manages to swallow the 'Mama' device, with consequent shtick. The vicious toy tank pursues and attacks anything that moves, murdering two other live toys-- where will it all end?
Alias St. Nick (1935)
Not too cute to be fun! Great toys!
The MGM cartoons do tend to trade on cuteness, and are never as hip or edgy as the Warner Brothers output of the 30s and 40s, but this one really isn't hard to watch, if you don't mind yet another cat-versus-mouse cartoon. The cat just wants a meal, but after all, playing on the gullibility of nice little mice is pretty rough, and he's obviously cast as an out-and-out villain. As mouse households go, this one is enormously well-furnished and a quite extensive burrow capable of sheltering thousands of mice, by the look of it.
The cunning cat shows enormous resourcefulness in quickly coming up with a Santa suit and an enormous bag of really terrific toys, many of them mechanical. It's a pleasure to watch those mice having a ball with all that great stuff; as a Santa impostor, that cat performs admirably. When his cover is blown (literally!) and the cat is finally out of the bag, so to speak, the mice mobilize as a fearless attack force using many of the toys. Inventive visuals abound. Worth a look!
The Little Girl of the Attic (1915)
Hard times turn around for Civil War orphan
Here are a couple of favorable short newspaper writeups on this piece; I based my rating on them. It might rate a ten, but having no way of viewing it reserved the top score.
From the Wilmington Morning Star, Friday May 21st, 1915 Page 2: "The Little Girl of the Attic," is a great two-reel Universal drama, a story of the Civil War, featuring Helen Leslie and M. K. Wilson in the leading roles. Helen Leslie's father was killed in the Civil War, leaving her, as far as she knows, friendless. She goes to live with strangers, who treat her as a drudge. Her final finding of happiness and home is graphically told in this absorbing two-reel drama.
From the Hartford Courant, Thursday, May 6th, 1915 Page 6: The Universal program, which is changed daily, brings today a wide variety of emotions portrayed on the screen. Foremost is the Laemmle two-part drama of the Civil War, "The Little Girl of the Attic." A little Southern girl, deprived of her soldier-father's support by his death, is made the slavey in a fashionable boarding school, but finally triumphs over those who mistreat her.
Tall Story (1960)
A pleasant anachronism
I was surprised to see that the play on which this is based is from 1959 and not 1939; it has so much of the flavor of 30s college flicks. Just imagine it with a cast from a quarter-century earlier and it makes for a more comfortable fit. Who would you cast in the principal roles? The contemporary young 30s actors to play Tall Naive Guys could be say, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, even musical comedy hoofers such as Ray Bolger or Buddy Ebsen for a different flavor. For the go-getter girl June (who needn't be tall) the possibilities are broader. Ginger Rogers? Early Betty Grable or Lucille Ball? Toby Wing? One could amass quite a list of potential Junes...
Let me confess that I didn't get to see this all the way through, but from what I saw I found it rather weird to find all these young people existing in a 1960 world devoid of young peoples' music, i.e. rock 'n' roll, doo-wop etc. When the couples are out spooning under the moon they're even singing "Cuddle Up A Little Closer, Lovey Mine", published in 1908 (the same year the director, Joshua Logan, was born). Granted this song had been revived to considerable success in the 40s during wartime and was still popular in the 50s, but it just didn't seem credible to me.
However, once one accepts that "Tall Story" is set in a time and place all its own it's a perfectly enjoyable trifle. Perkins is likably boyish, callow and gawky, and a trifle awkward to be convincing as an athlete, but one can swallow that with the rest of it-- remember, Willing Suspension of Disbelief. So we can buy Fonda's character being so besotted with the guy and pulling every string to land him. She of course is a thorough charmer, which is fun to watch from the perspective of the present day, looking back on her life and career.
This is a quite watchable piece of filmmaking, and a definite curiosity. Just put your brain in neutral and let it roll by.
The Unforgiven (1960)
Engrossing but some holes in it
It's certainly a high-powered cast and director, and some fine performances ensue. Lovely, genteel Audrey gives it her best, but she makes such an implausible Indian that 'willing suspension of disbelief' has a hard time keeping suspended... and the whole story hinges upon her Indian-ness. From her first appearance, folksily shooing cows off the roof in cultured Old-World tones, she's simply nothing whatever like a Kiowa or even any rural Texan-- not that the other Kiowas really look very Native American either. When her passed-off-as-white secret is threatened and one hears the remark that she's "darker than most" it's hard to buy, since in spite of some ruddy foundation (that comes and goes) she's in fact lighter than most of the cast except the very pale Gish-- and how did either of them stay pale out there in the wide open spaces anyway?
Joseph Wiseman delivers a riveting portrayal of crazed old coot Abe Kelsey, but he really looks too young for the part, and in fact was only 42 when this was filmed. Lillian Gish is superb as always, despite Huston's irreverent attitude towards this enduring screen legend. During filming the hapless Gish was forced to repeat her "breasts hurting with all that milk" speech again and again, probably just because the director enjoyed embarrassing her. And the day-for-night scenes detract further from the realism. Well, fuss, fuss fuss, it's still a very impressive picture and a well-intended filmization of the source novel (whatever one's opinion of that). The music is a bit overblown here and there, but that's typical of older movie soundtracks.
Well, one simply has to watch this film with an uncritical eye and accept it all at face value.
The Grey Fox (1982)
Not really a Western, but it's a darned good ride!
I hadn't seen this since it was first out in theaters, so all I remembered was that it was very good indeed! Well, that, and the beautiful Pacific Northwest and Farnsworth's charm. It was released by Video Treasures in '88; it's interesting that this same VHS edition is still apparently the only video available, and I don't recall seeing it in the TV listings, though it may well have been aired. Anyway, I got a good deal on a slightly used copy on eBay and settled in to view it. For a nearly 30-year- old VHS tape this copy has held up well and is watchable, despite the fact that the nice folks at Video Treasures were a bit too thrifty with tape and put it out at LP speed-- very unusual, and completely baffling to our more advanced VCR. In fact we couldn't get a picture at all until we switched to an older unit that could resolve the tracking. The visual quality isn't too bad, considering (at least on a small screen)-- though let me add my voice to the chorus of DVD voters. Also the original festival runtime of 110 minutes has been whittled down to a stated 92, and without the leader, FBI warning and tracking frame it's even less. So what are we missing?
I wouldn't really call this a Western, since the Far West was never quite like the Old West; the picture is just set in old times away from the big cities. No one wears a cowboy hat. You'll find no cheap thrills, no gratuitous gore or gross-outs, no glamorization of Miner's career. The robberies aren't shown as lighthearted capers, just realistically uncomfortable --and sometimes unsuccessful-- crimes, committed with the aid of a couple of pathetic losers the Gentleman Bandit managed to recruit. The man had a degree of charm and persuasion that made him a folk hero, and Farnsworth is so likable in the role that one can readily understand Miner's popularity. While he was no altruistic Robin Hood (in fact he was a definite sociopath, and his handwriting reveals an extreme degree of narcissism), later in his career he gained much of his popularity through having robbed wealthy companies that were perceived as themselves robbing the public.
In 1992 a book about him came out: "The Grey Fox: the True Story of Bill Miner, Last of the Old Time Bandits" by Boessenecker and Dugan. It's always nice to get the documented facts, and this supplies plenty. One prominent fact is that Miner was bisexual. For a man who spent half his life in prison it was pretty much a necessity to be with men while inside; he seems to have mostly kept to women when out, though he was known to recruit young accomplices by seduction. Probably any film treatment nowadays would include some of this to portray him more accurately, but "The Grey Fox" only focuses on his doings after his final release from San Quentin (almost 20 years for this stretch; he'd been in before).
He did in fact escape from the Canadian prison-- a few days after convincing the deputy warden's daughter that he sincerely regretted his past acts and was content to end his days in prison, as a humble penitent. No romance was ever suggested here, but it definitely demonstrates his colossal nerve and ability to feign sincerity. He did live it up on his booty, and it was in Denver that he had what appears to be his last romance with a lady-- Bill was a charmer at any age! And he never changed his ways, so once the money ran out he got into fresh trouble, this time in the South, where in 1911 he received his final conviction. It somewhat spoils the fun of the movie's ending to learn that Miner, still well-liked, died in a Georgia prison in 1913 after two escapes and recaptures. Perhaps most of us are better off not knowing about that...
Saturday's Lesson (1929)
Entertaining but somewhat disturbing novelty
I wonder how much adults or children of 1929 will have laughed at this one! Seeing (admittedly blatant) naughtiness punished isn't as appealing as the Gang's usual creative shenanigans, and the message seems to be that there's simply no fun for kids on a Saturday (phooey!). One can appreciate that doing chores and eating good-for-you spinach just takes all the zest out of a kid's life. There was a real pro-spinach movement at that time, and countless youngsters were forced to choke down the detested greenery before Popeye cartoons (which didn't debut until 1933) turned spinach into a favorite. I know I always liked it because of the cartoons, and if my mother was looking the other way would grab it off my plate as a handful and stuff it into my mouth the way Popeye did. Bugs Bunny did wonders for the popularity of raw carrots, too. There's a pair of role models for you...
Anyway, in this little film the respective mothers initially seem pretty heartless as they hand out their decrees, though later after 'Satan' steps in they're overcome with concern for their frenetically slaving offspring. The no-longer-rebellious kids are understandably frantic with terror at the prospect of imminent hellfire and damnation. The real Devil?? The REAL one?? The Message of 'mind your mother and do your chores' is pounded in by the phony Lucifer, who seems a bit preachy for Satan. Wouldn't you think he'd be heartily in favor of every sort of misbehavior? Instead of registering disapproval, he should be gloating at the spectacle of all that naughtiness and the prospect of carrying those kids off to the nether regions: "you won't mind your mother, so you're MINE!" But this devil is on the side of the angels-- aside from taking a malicious delight in making those poor kids jump.
Well, it's just a comedy short, after all, and does have its moments. The pacing is snappy, and all in all it's quite an entertaining piece. When we screened it for an audience recently there were big laughs for the running gag of Joe Cobb returning to his woodpile labors time and again despite all efforts to dissuade him. On the racial side, one needs to remember that those were other times when we see Farina's mother, delighted at the boy's industrious rug-beating, predicting that he'll be a Pullman porter yet-- the highest office to which a colored man can realistically aspire, in her experience. The dialogue cards are in dialect, but could be worse. Another cringer is Farina's revelation that his father hasn't worked in 20 years-- lazy and shiftless, of course. In Roach's favor, however, is the absence of the usual over-the-top bug- eyed mugging of a black character that was considered amusing by white folks; when Farina is first confronted by the 'Devil', he simply faints, and when Mama sees him she just acts realistically frightened and runs away. This certainly compares favorably with the appalling business that mars the otherwise enjoyable "Haunted Spooks" and "Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies". One does note that it's the black mother who gets chased by that devil, who again, seems to be enjoying his pranks entirely too much, and has definitely crossed the line when he goes after a parent. When he reveals his little game to the collective mothers, they all laugh! Out of this debacle the white mothers end up with a mountain of split firewood, a spotless kitchen (with spinach retrieved out of the garbage and hastily gobbled up) and a tidy yard, but what does Farina's mother get? Her rugs beaten into rags-- and she's presumably the one least able to afford the cost of replacing them. Or are they rugs she's cleaning for someone else, for pay? Someone has to pay the bills in that family. This is probably a lot more analysis than this odd little opus warrants...
Then Joe faces the camera with a bleak expression (and didn't he have extraordinarily beautiful eyes!), and soberly delivers a serious message to kids that they should help their mothers and do their chores- - which is a nice sentiment, but when motivated by grim (and deluded) fear rather than any real consideration it leaves rather a bad taste. Happily, at the very end, while the kids are still under the fake devil's spell, Pete the Pup isn't so easily fooled and gets the guy by the tail! This is thrown in rather sketchily for the final iris-out, and would have had more punch with a bit more setup and payoff, but it's good to see that smug prankster taken down a peg at the last!
Three Russian Girls (1943)
See it if you can!
People have recently been trying to put this title up on YouTube under three account names, but nothing is viewable yet. So someone has it! Anna Sten fans may soon have cause for rejoicing.
I got intrigued with this film while looking up Dolores Moran, who no, isn't in it. But Mimi Forsythe is, and this was the first of her three films, the others being "Sensations of 1945" and "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" (this last as only an extra). She received decent billing on the poster for "Russian Girls" (though her name was misspelled), and had a very good role (replacing Oona O'Neill), cast on the basis of her appearance in a 16mm amateur film. She abandoned her career to marry producer Benedict Bogeaus, who soon got involved with the very beautiful Dolores Moran and divorced Mimi to marry his new flame.
Mimi Forsythe committed suicide a few years later after two subsequent marriages (widowed after two months, divorced)... I'd like to see her performance in "Three Russian Girls"! And fans of the supremely bland Kent Smith might want a look as well. Also interesting that Feodor Chaliapin Jr. is in it. So let's see it!
Babes in Toyland (1986)
You have to be a little kid! Really little.
That's my adult vote-- 1 for Awful. But if I were 3 or 4 or even 5 years old I'll bet I'd consider this weird misfire thrilling entertainment, once it got to Toyland. For those who like Barney the purple dinosaur, it could be just the thing...
I'm glad that there are viewers who find it truly watchable; after all, it took some effort to put it together, especially with such an obvious lack of adequate budget. TV movies have come a long way since '86, though. The 80s really inflicted some pretty bad music on us and this is no exception, with a number of really painful new songs, and the beloved 1903 'Toyland' title song's melody thrown in here and there as incidental music. Thankfully, the stirring "March of the Toys" is included during the final battle scene.
Even without comparison to the delightful (if considerably altered from the stage version) 1934 Laurel and Hardy outing, the less charming but still enjoyable 1961 Disney effort, or the quaint 1954 live television production (preserved on kinescope), this 'Toyland' is pretty feeble stuff. Despite being filmed in Bavaria, a place chock-a-block with fairytale villages and wonderful castles, the Toyland set looks like some corner of a minor suburban theme park, complete with rubber- tired miniature train and little cars obviously taken from a racetrack ride. The rather modern buildings appear to have been freshly repainted for the occasion.
Barnaby's nasty trolls are actually icky enough to be effective as a menace, though at about 10 to 12 count they're too few to be much of an army. For the most part the cheesy creature costumes, which would be quite acceptable in person, on screen require a level of willing-suspension-of-disbelief not granted to many of us. Plus, Richard Mulligan is seriously miscast as villain Barnaby, though Pat Morita as the Toymaster is (predictably) one of the bright spots-- despite being saddled with having to sing some of that limp new score.
Well, I saw 86's "Toyland" listed and tuned in out of curiosity. Thought I'd comment.
A dazzling ride through the Hindu cosmos
I was fortunate in chancing upon this extraordinary film on YouTube-- and with English subtitles. This is pure Tamil Indian cinema without a trace of Bollywood or any westernized or modernized elements (aside from some of the language in the subtitles). The imagery, the dance, the music are a feast for the eyes and ears, and the tales of Shiva and his doings quite engrossing and instructive. For a total immersion in the splendors of Hindu tradition, this can't be excelled. The print used for YouTube wasn't in the best condition, but the occasional badly damaged or deteriorated parts soon pass; one is eager to see what comes next. I wish I'd been able to see it fifty years ago! Be warned; the subtitles are often rather odd in translation, but entertaining in their own right. Shiva is most pleased after witnessing the fabulous opening devotional performance of horned drummers, Seven Sages, Seven Maidens... the god declares that he feels 'groovy'! A delightful moment that only adds to the overall charm of this classic.
Nifty Numbers (1928)
An entertaining bit of fluff
The 'nifty numbers' of the title are women's bathing suits, and the chorus girls, headed by Frances Lee, step in to assist Mr. Knit and partner, purveyors of said suits, in making a big sale. We go from theater to shop to hotel, where plenty of shenanigans ensue, with the house detective uncovering a game of strip poker that isn't exactly what it seems... There are room invasions and scantily-clad dashings about-- it's silly, but good fun. The eight "Confessions of a Chorus Girl" comedies were originally two-reelers; the 200-foot 8mm print I viewed is a condensed one-reel version, which also survives as a 16mm print, and that may be all there is. 'Looser Than Loose' used this to include "Nifty Numbers" in a DVD, so it's gettable. And cute! According to the publicity, moviegoers will find: "Fun backstage in 8 snappy comedies. The last word in snap, dash and jazzy appeal. Featuring the most beautiful girls in Hollywood, headed by adorable Frances Lee. Also Billy Engle, Lorraine Eddy, Jimmy Harrison, Betty Lorraine, Helen Fairweather, Jane Laurell, and buddy, the dog. Fun spiced with peaches, sugar daddies, high jinks and merriment."
Post No Bills (1923)
Mild fun-- but fun!
As the partner in a movie house, Parrot seems to be a hopelessly irresponsible bungler, but is ever-resourceful in avoiding effort. The 'Gloria Snootful' poster is good for a chuckle, as Gloria Swanson's overdressed De Mille society outings were ripe for sending up. When the theater's press agent (George Rowe) takes a day off to get married (with subplot of hastily obtaining the marriage license), Parrot is assigned the task of posting showbills; "Be intelligent!" his partner implores (though he MUST know it's a lost cause).
Parrot proceeds to determinedly post anywhere but where it would logically serve its intended purpose, and he seems to be a complete moron-- but an inventive one. There are predictable gags, of course, but quite unexpected ones as well. There's also the fun of watching a real southern California setting as it was over ninety years ago. Which town IS that?
The press agent's marriage license quest is a pretty good little comedy in its own right, and intersects amusingly with the bill posting. We're not really told specifically that the anxious groom IS the press agent, but it's after the news about his day off that we cut to the modest wedding scene, with his realization that a license is needed. That can be a bit confusing on first viewing, especially if the film is being run at sound speed (as it is on YouTube and the source DVD), since one has little time to ponder these points before the action has gone elsewhere.
In the days of silent comedy, there seems to have been a belief that a kick in the pants was funny, and thus if one kick in the pants was funny, more would be even funnier. Uh-huh. Mercifully, here the pants- kicking is finished early on, and most of "Post No Bills" is perfectly enjoyable. So just put your brain in neutral, and it's a pretty good ride!
Mom and Dad (1945)
I haven't seen this film yet myself, but I'm going to look for it! I've been poring over old newspaper ads and found "Mom and Dad" very intriguing, as listed for a 1960 screening at the State Theatre in Petaluma, California. "See the Birth of Triplets", "SEE LIFE BEGIN!" and "You SEE the BIRTH of a BABY" certainly raise expectations of an obstetric spectacle. And the segregated audiences: "Women and High School Age Girls 7:00 p.m., Men and High School Aged Boys 9:00 p.m."
Sounds educational, even clinical. Reminds me of when all the 10-year-old girls at our school got hustled off to the auditorium to watch an already-hilariously-antiquated but quite informative 16mm about Growing Up. Until I read other comments on this production, I found it odd that the ad also featured a photo of a bosomy blonde with a smoldering gaze, and the question (or title) "How Bad Can a Good Girl Get?". It appears that the audience is assured of not only sex education but some real titillation as well-- possibly, anyway.
As if that wasn't enough for the price of admission, there's "Extra, Elliot Forbes in person", at which things really start to get unreal. Are we talking about the prominent conductor and musicologist Elliot Forbes? HUH? Well, maybe he was strongly in favor of sex ed and got roped into appearing with this program. At this point anything is possible. Have to check other screenings of this curious relic...
Baby Kittens (1938)
Cat is Cat and Dog is Dog...
This is an entertaining if mostly forgettable piece, with a less-than-compelling title (probably it was the working title and no one got around to supplying a better one), and it actually has some unusual elements. First, to my recollection, it's the only time cartoon kittens have been shown with their eyes still closed. However, as real kittens usually open theirs at seven or more days old, when they're tiny wobbly crawlers, there the realism ends. These kittens are pretty active, at least four weeks old, and go blindly and blithely trooping off and into an occupied doghouse.
The first thing they see when their eyes all suddenly pop open is a big hound-dog whom they of course mistake for their mother, despite his not remotely smelling, sounding or acting anything like Mama. He makes every effort to discourage them, but is finally charmed in spite of himself. This was managed much more effectively and appealingly later on in the 50s by Chuck Jones with his Marc Ant(h)ony and Pussyfoot series.
And yes, the voice-over is pretty strange, a quite atypical touch. At least it's not always there. It does seem like an afterthought, intended to cover for imagined deficiencies in the dog's expressiveness by coming across as his shared thoughts. What's oddest about that, though, is that it doesn't sound like a voice-over actor; it's certainly not a familiar voice from the cartoon world. Perhaps one of the animation crew volunteered? Or the janitor? Maybe they were screening it and someone just chimed in with those remarks, and during a momentary lapse of judgment the decision was made to dub it in. One can only speculate.
I found the ending ultimately unsatisfying and lacking the customary sense of cartoon justice and balance. It didn't serve him right! His plight simply isn't laughable. The poor dog is imposed upon by those cute innocent kittens and then gets punished for growing attached to them and trying to be a good mother to them. He's ultimately a victim of his own stupidity, I suppose, since he's too dumb to reflect that those babies might have a mother looking for them. The mother cat isn't about to give him credit for good intentions and welcome him into the family. When Mama reclaims her brood, only to have the dog chase her off, he's crossed the line. Inciting the whole feline community to descend upon him seems awfully harsh, though! Well, it's only a cartoon.
Despite coming from Walter Lantz, it's almost like a cartoon made by people who didn't quite understand how to make a cartoon, though the animation and music score are fine. You sort of knit your brow and go 'hmm' while watching it. Decidedly a curiosity.
The AristoCats (1970)
Charming for most kids but a few jarring notes for adults
This is a pretty well-crafted film for the young and uncritical watcher, full of amusing characters, and with a villain who is not particularly scary or evil; he's almost just a victim of circumstances. I'm glad that so many people have enjoyed this film without reservations and remember it fondly. Coming to a first viewing as an adult, there were points that gave me pause.
For a story set in France there seem to be rather few characters who sound French-- but I suppose the idea is that American children will more readily connect with familiar accents. Eva Gabor's elegantly Continental Duchess seems right at home, but somehow her kittens turned out pure USA. Well, these aren't the things that matter to kids.
It's too bad that the period setting wasn't developed further; the music in many period pieces is inoffensively anachronistic, but putting jazz into 1910, at the height of the ragtime era, seems like a wasted opportunity. It wouldn't have been too hard to concoct a fun gang of cats who played snappy rags.
Giving the 'hepcats' identities largely through nationality isn't so bad (again, not many French in this Paris), but the 'Chinese' cat?!! I know other reviewers must have commented on this notorious racial faux pas. 'Shun Gon' appears to be a Siamese, but with the squinty eyes, buck teeth and broken English more typical of a wartime anti-Japanese propaganda cartoon. He even plays piano with chopsticks, just in case we hadn't already gotten the joke about those quaint, funny Far-East types. Evidently at the Disney studio, even in 1970, all Asians were alike-- and were caricatures. How could any major organization based in California be so oblivious to the presence and feelings of the many Chinese, Japanese and Thai Californians, not to mention those living elsewhere? For shame! At least 'Shun Gon' has little closeup screen time, though his lyrics in "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" are memorably lame orientalisms: "Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Yong! Hya ha ha ha ha ha! Fortune cookie always wrong! Hya ha ha!" Well, enough about that.
As an animated feature rather than a cartoon, the world of "The Aristocats" largely functions close to the real laws of physics, so it seemed a startling departure when the overtaxed piano at Scat Cat's jam session falls through the floor, and then each successive floor below before coming to rest. I hope that was a deserted building! (with a harp in it?) Who'd be repairing the damage? Luckily O'Malley would soon be moving out.
Then there's dear Madame; she seems to have become unhinged by her experiences, for at the end she announces her intention of taking in EVERY STRAY CAT IN Paris. Yes, but-- Well, just picture it! And spaying/neutering wasn't the custom then; surplus kittens were simply put into a sack and drowned. But of course Madame wouldn't permit that. One tries to imagine the scene a few years hence...
But still, for the young and uncritical watcher this is a film to enjoy. Why spoil it with too much grownup reality?
My Green Fedora (1935)
Lively Predator-Prey Genre Entry
Warners liked to feature songs they had under copyright in many of their cartoons, however slim the pretext for introducing some of these into the story lines and titles of the 'toons. In this case, Peter Rabbit, stuck watching his baby brother (who is quite a terror), does a Joe Penner routine to entertain the little monster, delivering Joe's signature song with all Joe's characteristic moves, and baby Elmer responds with Joe's distinctive goofy laugh.
You figure the brothers are going to get along after that, but uh-uh; that baby really wants to get Peter's goat! Big brother stalks out in disgust, leaving Elmer all alone in the house. A big drooling weasel is lurking nearby, planning a rabbit meal, and immediately seizes his chance (and Elmer). A moment later Peter relents and rushes back, only to find his baby brother gone! Horrors!
Then it's all pursuit and rescue action underground in the weasel's burrows, very fast-paced and inventive. Sibling friction is forgotten as Peter goes up against a scary carnivore with single-minded determination. And everything happens while Mama is away, too. How will the boys explain that big weasel hole in the middle of the floor?
If anyone's curious about Penner, he can be seen in a number of old movies. His comedy isn't highbrow stuff, but it's right at home in a cartoon.
Hawaiian Birds (1936)
Adult 30s Melodrama in Birds' Clothing!
Here's the kind of sordid depression-era story usually featured on the pre-code live-action screen. Good Girl & Good Boy separated by Bad Boy; Good Girl in trouble; Good Boy to the rescue! The plot: two nice little birds, who apparently live in Hawaii but don't look Hawaiian, are settling down together. They fly along through an idyllic Fleischer 3D landscape to the languid strains of an island tune, and pick out a nice spot on a branch. The Boy Bird sets to work building a nest and is busily engaged in his work when the Big City Orioles, a hot musical act, come jazzing in and perch on a nearby tree to rehearse.
Girl Bird's little hips start to twitch along with the animal rhythm, and before you know it she's flown over to the Orioles and is shaking a shoulder shimmy and putting on quite a show. The leader invites her to join the act, and she leaves a note for the still-oblivious Boy Bird and flies off north with those Bad-Boy Orioles, the little floozy! But she couldn't help it-- it was that wicked jazz. (Interesting that the Orioles don't actually have any musical instruments; the music just materializes, and the 'band' simply sways in time to it while the leader conducts. )
Boy Bird, having completed a beautiful love nest for his sweetie, now finds that she's flown the coop, but he refuses to be downhearted and follows to the frozen urban North. There, at the big-city Oriole Nite Club, the bandleader has had enough time to tire of his new plaything and brutally throws her out in the snow (traditional fate of unfaithful females) despite her piteous pleas for mercy. Then she decides to end it all, first pulling out a picture of Boy Bird, which she tenderly kisses...
Will Boy Bird find her in time to prevent her little birdie life being thrown away utterly? Well, it's on YouTube, so you can see for yourselves. Terrific Fleischer 3D sets in the big city, too. Great little piece, and don't expect any big laughs. Not really for the kiddies, except as a cautionary tale to warn little girls against being tempted from Virtue's path by Demon Jazz. Hot cha!
Note: This is one of those cartoons that seems to have ended up with just its working title-- "which one? Oh yeah, the Hawaiian birds thing", where these usually get pretty catchy names. Same goes for "The Baby Kittens"-- I mean, talk about dull titles! Maybe production had to speed up and no one got around to thinking up anything better. In some cases the title is better than the 'toon, but this time it's definitely the other way around.
Suddenly It's Spring (1944)
A Lovely Piece, Then Suddenly It's-- Racist!
This is a beautiful and touching piece of work, with Raggedy Ann going to plead with all the winter elements in hopes of an early spring that will save her mistress Nancy, who is dangerously ill and needs sunlight. The sun can't do a thing unless the clouds move away, but the clouds are too lazy to move and need the wind to blow them aside.
Here's where things get unfortunate; the cartoon is temporarily marred by the lazy cloud being characterized as a kind of super Stepin Fetchit, since of course! The exemplar of sloth is a lazy black man, right? Well, those were the times. White cartoon producers certainly could be clueless.
Anyway, the wind blowing the clouds away won't help unless 'Mr. Zero' takes off the freeze and lets the ice and snow melt, so Raggedy Ann, though rebuffed, sets to work to melt Mr. Zero's heart with a beautiful song. Like the other Raggedys, this is pretty much a chick flick, but anyone should be able to appreciate the great animation and design, and forgive the lapse into racial stereotype.
This doesn't actually appear to be presented as a dream, as described by another reviewer; the story is a fantasy that holds to its internal reality. Raggedy Ann really does all that! And little Nancy doesn't awaken all cured; she opens her eyes when the sunbeam falls on her, and we know that she's safely on the mend at last. The workings of kindly toys and winter elements are secrets shared only by children-- and other cartoon viewers.