Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 5 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Veronika Voss (1982)

Veronika-Voss

Yes, this is more Fassbinder and more of the BRD trilogy (two-thirds of it on this massive list). The BRD Trilogy through female protagonists tells tales of Post-War Germany and the repercussions it had for many years.

This particular tale takes place in Munich 1955 where a sports journalist meets Veronika Voss, a woman now hooked on painkillers who purportedly had an affair with Goebbles.

This film delves into quite a few aspects of the war, as well as the post war era and offers interesting commentaries on the Nazi link with the German film industry.

Mirage (2004)

mir3

Later this year, with regard to In Bloom and the other films from former Soviet states that I was watching, I came to realize that there is a wave of new postcolonial cinema that has been blossoming worldwide since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc in general. While it was those films that pointed it out to me it has been illuminated for some time, and this an early example.

This is a Macedonian film, and was an Oscar submission in its own right the year it came out. It successfully connects coming-of-age tropes with a burgeoning nationhood. A nationhood that’s not conducive to hope; one that glorifies the outside world and presents only violence and pain within its borders. The fact that this tale marries fantasy and reality is also a comment on the perception of both the local environment and the world at large, and a powerful statement.

Duma (2005)

Duma_01

If there’s one thing that always kind of bugged me about Carol Ballard’s The Black Stallion is that the portion Alec and The Black meet and bond, which is mostly silent, is far superior to the portion of the film wherein he comes home and starts to race the horse. Having bonded with a horse in the wild it just never quite jibed with me that he’d then willingly race it. Such artifice rang false. I still like the film, just not as much as I thought I would. Duma, another Ballard-directed film, based on the nature of its tale doesn’t have that issue. It’s still a tale of a boy and a wild animal bonding, helping each other becoming friends, but the nature of the animal doesn’t get altered, and furthermore, Duma helps Xan come to terms with things he couldn’t deal with in his life prior. It’s a great film that’s not as widely acknowledged as it should be.

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)

merchantoffourseasons1

Being the last installment of the list and the one I designated for any overflow, and in part due to luck of the draw, I had to have two Fassbinder titles here.

My reaction to this one was delayed, and the most powerful I felt after any of his films. Again I was gutted as the film comes closer to dropping than ending. It’s a simple tale, with a rather straightforward, and to an extent foreseeable, trajectory but powerful nonetheless.

Miss Annie Rooney (1942)

MissAnnieRooney

This has very basic set-up, however, when you look closer there are a few interesting things going on in this film. The basic premise is that a girl from a working-class family (Shirley Temple) meets and upper-crust boy (Dickie Moore) and needs a dress to fit in at a party she’s invited to. The class commentary, the love conquers all portions are fairly common. There’s a few interesting twists thrown into the happily-ever-after endings. More interestingly is the way a transitional vehicle for young actors is handled, they’re cast close to their actual age, and in fact, seem to be playing a bit older than they are at times and are not really dumbed down too much. More often than not now it seems that successful transitions from child star to adult employment on camera is facilitated by hiatus but this seems quite the successful transitional vehicle for both young stars.

Dead of Night (1977)

Dead of Night (1977, Dan Curtis Productions)

Here’s the second made-for-TV movie to be featured on this list and marks a return to the list for writer/director/producer Dan Curtis whom last appeared thanks to Burnt Offerings.

This is a TV movie that tells three tales, and the opening monologue does not lie, each tale works in a bit of a different milieu: the first, regarding a very odd time traveling incident is a fantasy, a work of imagination, that is not bereft of eeriness. The second is a mystery tale though also with a decidedly horror slant, as in this one Matheson is working off his own short story about vampires. The grand finale, and it is grand, is the truest horror tale of them all, titled simply “Bobby” deals with the horrific results of a grieving mother getting what she wished for: the return of her deceased son.

It is a taut tale, it runs 72 minutes for the three tales, so each is roughly the equivalent of an episode of a half-hour TV show; which is a perfect vessel for drama. There is a tenor of seriousness and an undertone of tension throughout the film, which culminates in rather narrative film fashion in the last tale, which is absolutely pitch perfect. Joan Hackett and Lee Montgomery are the only actors in the tale, barring a voice-over husband away on business, and they are frequently in singles and could not be more flawless in their commitment and delivery.

Dead of Night is a great anthology and one that really gives me an impetus to move Curtis further up my queue, as this is masterfully done.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour – Don’t Think About It(2007)

R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour - Don't Think About It (2007, Universal Home Entertainment)

At times, I will confess that choices do have to be representative. You can categorize, sub-categorize and pigeonhole films (or any art) in any number of ways. However, it’d be hard to represent 2013 for me without some reference to R.L. Stine. Yes, there was the huge write-up on the new series he produces, but also quite a bit of reading of his works, and then there’s also this film.

It took me a while to get around to screening this one because the last film I’d seen based on one of his works was quite a bad miss. This one, however, thankfully, mostly works.

A lot of that has to do with the practical effects work by Gregory Nicotero, one of the best in the game right now, who created an awesome creature for this film.

The film works itself into its story slowly. It does follow its protagonist (Emily Osment) and builds her character, and motivations for all the characters involved, but it does so a bit languidly. When things do get going though they’re rather freaky and things resolve themselves nicely, with the characters growing and a well-earned horror-film end.

As this film felt a bit stretched, it will be interesting to see if the planned Goosebumps film, comes to fruition if the anthology-styling suits it better, which it should.

In Love with Life (1934)

In Love with Life (1934, Invincible)

As many painfully poor titles as I had to suffer through in my Poverty Row theme it sure has made a dent on this list. Here’s my rather lengthy initial reaction to this film:

A few things come to mind when discussing this film, most are specific to Poverty Row others aren’t as much. I’ve discussed the running time and the utilization thereof on a few occasions in these posts. This is not something that stems from worries about my attention span or time management issues but is inherent to structuring. Some of these films are trying to cram a lot of film into not much time, others are at points stretching. This one, at a brisk 51 minutes seems to handle things just right.

Now one note I will include, I believe this is the TV edit. I base this conclusion on both the book by Mr. Pitts and the IMDb, which list the running time at 66 minutes, as does a supposedly remastered version available on the IMDb. Sadly, with many of these Poverty Row titles those are the only cuts that remain. If this is truly a TV edit kudos to the editors of this version, while it is brisk it never feels overly truncated. There just seem to be a few instances of dropped frames.

Things that separate this film are: that there is scoring throughout rather than just on the opening and closing title, there are moving shots which required sophisticated sound editing, elevated production values for the budget namely set design and good montage/titling work.

Not exclusive to, but more common in works of this type, are stories that pre-date and lead up to the stock market crash. It being a melodrama the moral is clear: we lost our money but have what matters. However, it doesn’t go as far over the top as it could, particularly with a mother-child separation at the beginning. It plays its tropes fairly well and quickly.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953, Columbia)

This is kind of surprise that this list was built to highlight. There is much in this film that I usually would not connect with. However, this particular film connects in a number of ways.

The first, and most surprising thing for me, is not only is this an original screen idea by Dr. Seuss, but one I really connect with. Even as a kid I was never really into Dr. Seuss at all, quite the contrary, but on occasion I will find a tale that sneaks by and I enjoy and this is one. Next this film features Tommy Rettig pre-Lassie and he’s perfectly cast and has quite a bit to carry aside from singing he also breaks the fourth wall and narrates the tale. The villain, played by Hans Conried, struck me as familiar. As the film started, I knew I had heard that voice. Sure enough I was right, and guessed it. I heard that voice a lot as Disney’s Captain Hook. Almost immediately I pegged this film as a one nomination film and having fallen in love with the production design thought it’d be that, it was the score which is also good. It merited multiple honors in my estimation.

The Color Out of Space (aka Die Farbe) (2010)

This was a film that I initially qualified for the 2013 year, but upon further research I discovered it was on Amazon Instant Video for a while without my knowing about it. When I had a slip-up in the planning of these lists and found this list one film short it was the perfect title to slip in.

The malleability of the tale again shines through as in this rendition while the tale begins in Arkham, Massachusetts; the protagonist is in search of his father who vanished in Germany after World War II, and that is where he will spend most of his time. As he arrives in his last known whereabouts he meets a man who starts to tell him of the strange events that had occurred in that town. These events make up a bulk of the short story.

Now the film being transplanted to Germany is already a bold decision that works out quite well. The next emboldened choice is that the film is predominantly in black and white. It’s a great choice for Lovecraft’s antiquarian style, but also aids in selling a majority of the effects work that is needed to render this tale. Yet, in a tale about color it is further brave – and without putting to fine a point on it, does serve a purpose.

There is some English dialogue in the film, but a vast majority of it is in German, and due to that performances are usually spot on. Both the cinematography and the edit do tremendous things to build the atmosphere of outre and foreboding that is one of Lovecraft’s hallmarks. Things in this tale are slightly askew and on a precipitous decline leading to one earth-shattering moment and it moves there almost unerringly.

The workmanship in this tale rivals what the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has been able to do with its films. It really is quite a work and proves that The Colour Out of Space is what I would refer to as one of the great stories, meaning that I can view many renditions of it and revel in the tweaks an modifications each brings to the table.

Shorts

Not much text is needed to discuss the shorts, but they do deserve inclusion. Especially when you consider my list of films seen I should highlight a few older shorts, some not featured on Short Film Saturday. So here are some notable ones.

Captain Eo

Captain Eo (1985, Disney)

Thankfully I went to see this wondrous relic of the ’80s before the attraction disappeared from the Walt Disney World landscape for all of eternity. In my opinion, it’s Michael Jackson’s best and most cinematic video/short film.

The Show (1922)

The Show (1922, Vitagraph)

I sought out quite a few films based on having read The Keystone Kid. This was the first and quite a humorous one at that.

The New York Hat

This is one of the shorts I saw for the Funny Ladies Blogathon wherein I wrote about Fazenda. This is most definitely a Gloria Swanson vehicle, and most definitely a D.W. Griffith title and very good.

There were also this year a few categories, be they directors or performers, that I saw many notable films from. Namely:

Georges Méliès

545px-George_Melies

For these titles I was able to find YouTube links. However, for the long Documentary about him, I recommend the box set Méliès the first Wizard of Cinema, for the Alice Guy and Louis Feuillade titles I refer you to the Gaumont Treasures vol. 1 set, For The Little Rascals I refer you to The Little Rascals The Complete Collection.

The Human Fly

The Impossible Voyage

Untamble Whiskers

A Moonlight Serenade

There was also a noteworthy film about him I saw called: Le Grand Méliès by Georges Franju

Alice Guy

544px-Alice_Guy

The Magician’s Alms
The Game Keeper’s Son
At the Photographers

Louis Feuillade

louis feuillade 3

Spring
The Trust
The Heart and Money

Little Rascals

Shivering_shakespeare_TITLE

Shivering Shakespeare

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Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 4 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Great Ghost Rescue (2011)

The Great Ghost Rescue

Family horror is an under-appreciated and under-utilized subgenre. It is usually a delicate balancing act where you have to have elements of a harsher genre keep it true, effective and still palatable for young audiences and hopefully engaging enough for those accompanying said viewers.

There are definitely different phases to this narrative, and it’s also one that, at least in its backstory does not fear taking things to the scariest place it can for children (death), but also presents a flip-side offers comedy and a strong lead performance by Toby Hall that elevates it above the ordinary.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola (1937, Warner Bros.)

Here was my 31 Days of Oscar take on this film:

A Paul Muni biopic strikes again, and perhaps he takes an early lead in the Neutron Star Award race for this year. What’s fascinating is that it chronicles a writer’s rise in typical biopic fashion in act one, then a military frame-up at the head of act two and has them smash together and culminate in a riveting courtroom drama. It distills the essential and best elements of a few subgenres to make a riveting and engaging film that surpasses its formulaic and periodic tropes.

Caught up in trying to stay current I was vague, so I will elaborate some: as opposed to his rendition of Pasteur, which had its own interesting take on scientific ideals and fear of new ideas; here we have a man who gets comfortable, perhaps forgetting his roots and then in seeing grave injustice lays his life and reputation on the line. It’s a fascinating, as holistic as possible in a two-hour film as it can be, treatment. It owes much of its success not only to the narrative, but also its structure and also Muni.

The Phantom Express (1932)

The Phantom Express (1932)

This is the first of the Poverty Row titles on this portion of the list. It’s also one of the more surprising revelations from that theme.

As I read and downloaded titles I noted the proclivity for the word phantom in titles. It must’ve scored well in marketing research of the day, it gives an air of mystery and intrigue. Sadly, no film I saw with the word phantom in it had either featured a ghost or been any good. This one at least accomplished the latter and is a highly entertaining tale. It’s not a whodunit so much as a “howdunit” as the perpetrators are revealed early. The film concerns a man who derails a train attempting to make an emergency stop causing many fatalities. He claimed there was an oncoming train he wanted to avoid, there was no record of this supposed train so it was dubbed “The Phantom Express.” The investigation into the mystery, the repeated incidents, the reveal along with explicatory closing monologue are all great. The effects work, mainly miniatures, may look primitive now, but is well done for the time and budgetary constraints. It’s really captivating stuff.

In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

In a Year with 13 Moons (1977, RWF Foundation)

Were my list shorter than it is Fassbinder could have easier dominated it rather than just being a prominent theme, which is why I like allowing this list to bloat as it allows more themes to seep through. However, my increased consumption of Fassbinder titles cannot be denied here.

In a Year with 13 Moons explains its name with title cards to start, and has the kind of narrative that could easily be exploitative were it wielded by less skilled hands. Here’s a synopsis per the IMDb:

This drama follows the last few days in the life of Elvira (formerly Erwin) Weisshaupt. Years before, Erwin told a co-worker, Anton, that he loved him. “Too bad, you aren’t a woman,” he replied. Erwin took Anton at his word. Trying to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of his life, he now hopes that Anton will not reject him again.

It could wander into parody, or the absurd; it never threatens to instead it’s just absolutely gutting and virtually pitch perfect.

Rainbow on the River (1936)

Rainbow on the River (1936, RKO)

I believe it was first through Movies Unlimited, when they had brick-and-mortar locations, that I first discovered the Sol Lesser-produced musicals that star Bobby Breen. Rainbow on the River, however, is likely the last of them that I can see, as his last outstanding film (Johnny Doughboy) is hard-to-find and overpriced through resellers at Amazon.

Fairly often in these films the story was but more than a pretense to get Bobby singing. On the rare occasion both of these combined perfectly. Yes, there’s an uncomfortable postbellum rendition of the south that’s a bit dated, but there’s a predominant fish-out-of-water aspect and fairytale caliber adoptive family that distract from that and get sympathies where the film wants it. The songs are naturalistically instilled and, as usual, brilliantly rendered.

To the Left of the Father (2001)

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This is a film I first heard about years ago when visiting family in Brazil. It’s one I didn’t get a chance to see there and it took a while for it to migrate over and secure North American distribution both in theaters and on home video via Kino Lorber. It’s one that took me even longer to see, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit because of its running time.

What you find in this film is an extraordinarily poetic title both in verbal and visual terms that externalizes the inner-workings of the mind extremely well and successfully manipulates time as only film truly can. While it has very internal conflicts it brings them forth, and even while being a very technical “filmmaker’s film” still allows room for the actors to work and drive home the emotions being underscored by the narrative. I’m completely unfamiliar with the written work upon which this film is based and did not find that it’s opaque without having read the book.

It may have taken me a while, but it’s testament to Edgar Wright’s statement that “It’s never too late to see a movie.”

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo (1961, MGM)

In hindsight I was rather fortunate in my viewing themes as they are providing most of the content of these selections. This is another 61 Days of Halloween selection that…

came to me by way of Stephen King’s list of horror films in Danse Macabre. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit and had some trepidation when I saw that this was a monster movie. After all I’m fairly sure that during the period from which King curated the list (1950-1980) there were other, more well-known giant-monster-attacks-city films; most notably the Japanese brood. So what makes Gorgo special?

I soon realized what it was and it’s not really about the fact that this species of prehistoric beast is discovered off the coast of an Irish isle, but rather the thing the film does in just 78 minutes. There’s a period of time wherein the film is like a proto-Jaws. There is a threat identified and a mostly unseen enemy. There is a plan to try and take it down.

What occurs then is a spin on King Kong, which has also been done. One notable example I viewed, that didn’t really work out, was Jurassic Park: The Lost World. However, here it does work because that second twist on the average monster film isn’t the last.

It’s also another brisk selection that’s worth looking up.

Imitation of Life (1934)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

One interesting thing about this title is that after having seen it I discovered it one of friend’s all-time favorite films, which got me thinking about that aspect. Specifically about how some overlooked titles can affect people. Even before I was made to realize and reflect upon that I had before me the film and there were many notable things about that made it stand out to me.

Merely being ahead of one’s time is a great in and of itself, however, that alone doesn’t make for a great drama. What’s fortunate is that for this film it has both. Imitation of Life deals with race about as openly, maturely and progressively as any film of its era – if you can fault it for anything cinematically it’s being slightly repetitious (But it addresses that), in social terms it discusses and even challenges norms. This was considered a dangerous films and Universal was strongly urged not to make it. Not only does it deal with race relations but in having Delilah’s daughter be able to pass for white, it also implies miscegenation, which was at the time one of the biggest taboos there was.

However, as I said without a compelling narrative all of the above is just a footnote. Bea’s chance meeting with Delilah snowballs in a very compelling way into a most unlikely friendship and partnership. The trials as single mothers also form dueling subplots that at times are equally compelling. The only knock I thought I had against it was that I wanted more focus on the more unusual plot, but based on the way things play out it is handled properly.

Blossoms in the Dust (1941)

Blossoms in the Dust (1941,

Perhaps one of the biggest laments in all my TCM 31 Days of Oscar watching has been the fact that I didn’t sit and watch all of Greer Garson’s consecutive Oscar-nominated roles back-to-back. Since that block aired I’ve been trying to make up for it and I haven’t been disappointed yet. Here’s my reaction to my latest find:

This was actually I found in a drug store on Oscar Day in 2012, this was after my having missed this on a TCM broadcast. This film is part of Greer Garson’s legendary run of five consecutive Oscar Nominations for Best Actress and six in seven years. Yes, this film doesn’t get away with not having its stump-speeches and it does give a classical Hollywood whirlwind treatment to and elongated tale, but it is so tremendously moving and gorgeous to look at. Watch it for the the acting, watch for Karl Freund working in color and stay for the tale, which when it really has to, when it wants to hit home, holds up just enough. It took me a while to get this one off my to watch pile, but it certainly was a memorable viewing. There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments in the film. I also learned a few things so it has the righteous indignation angle working for it too.

The Ghost Walks (1934)

The Ghost Walks (1934)

There are two titles on this section of the list with the word Ghost in the title. Only one, however, can stake any claim to being a straight horror film and this isn’t the one. There’s plenty going on in both, more so here:

Perhaps the first thing that struck me as a side note is that this is the first of the selections I chose that struck me as being very Pre-Code, though its December 1st, 1934 release date made it after promised Code re-enforcement. Most of that impression has to do with the theatrical producer and his the male secretary, the secretary both in affectation and through dialogue directed at him, is being portrayed as gay – perhaps the biggest code taboo. This all leads me to my second point, which is had the acting not been of such quality, the lines not as well-timed or funny, this film would’ve been ridiculous. Instead it’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen in a while. Granted the horror/thriller portions are intended too and the first act pantomimes a straight horror film excellently, but the comedy is very much by design and laugh out loud funny.

Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 3 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Maya (1966)

Maya (1966, MGM)

This is one of two titles that appears on this section of the list thanks to their being made available by Warner Archive. This is one of the great things about Warner Archive is that they do rescue these titles from obscurity. This was one of Jay North’s rare film roles after Dennis the Menace was done airing, and it was apparently popular enough to spawn a TV-Show spin-off that ran for a season, which starred both himself and his sidekick Rajid Khan.

Maya tells a simple tale of a boy who runs away in India after a fight with his father, but does so very entertainingly and creates great adventures, and a wonderful bond between its two leading characters.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, MGM)

If you like films that take place all in the course of 24 hours it’s kind of hard to do better than Bad Day at Black Rock. The film brilliantly takes its time, paints xenophobia and builds tension. Furthermore:

This film sets itself up so well and does things that work in its favor constantly. It deals with xenophobia, with regards to its ghost character; it deals with the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope brilliantly, with its protagonist; however, it also makes the paranoia felt in this town so palpable the lead is instantly on the defensive, such that you’re left unsure as to what his business in town is. It’s a cloistered and oddly claustrophobic tale, in what looks like an inhabited ghost town that’s well worth watching.

Bolt (2008)

Bolt (2008, Disney)

This was one of my more fortuitous viewings of the year. It was already into my March to Disney theme it was early on a Sunday, before you even ponder doing much of anything, and this came on Disney Channel. I found myself not only pleasantly surprised that this was a good Disney animated feature of recent vintage that I didn’t give a fair shake when it was released theatrically, but also that it shared similar themes and topics as a classic with modernized touches.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)

Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971,  Apollo Pictures)

When you’re dealing with the two titans of Italian horror you’re lucky to find a new-to-you film. Recently, prior-to-its-reissue, I happened upon a region-two DVD of this hard-to-find film.

When one gravitates towards Italian horror and starts to navigate it, one is generally made aware of the two most titanic figures in it: Argento and Fulci. Many viewers make it seem like you have to embrace one and scorn the other. I do not believe that is so. They both operate in rather different ways, but this title perhaps could be viewed as the closest to there being a stylistic overlap, certain tropes are similar: the approach to the narrative highly stylized, while the protagonist “witnessed” the incident in a dream, or fugue state early she (like us) is trying to make sense of what she saw, to identify the culprit, going in chase of them parallel to police activity, and independent of them.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin may not be Fulci’s greatest work, but it is another great work of Fulci’s I was glad to discover.

The Smart Set (1928)

the-smart-set

I will admit there is an unevenness to the lead performance in this title. William Haines is a jokester who has to start realizing the consequences of his actions and be brought back down to earth. He loves a girl, he’ll want to win her. Perhaps one of the brilliant things about the film is that is does work despite the fact that for about 30 minutes Haines seems to be enacting a slapstick performance from the decade prior. However, when he starts acting more like a person he is pretty good and charming. The film is funny, romantic and dramatic and really starts to kick into gear. This was a film I discovered thanks to Coy Watson, Jr.’s biography, and he does brilliantly in his small role. The standout may be the reconstructed, gorgeous score of the film. Many thanks to Warner Archive for that and for making this great film available.

Sisters (1973)

Sisters (1973, AIP)

One way I chose selections for 61 Days of Halloween was Stephen King’s list of standout horror films from 1950-1980. On it a few selections were Brian De Palma films. I went into this film a virtual blank slate and was very glad I did.

Sisters is a great little gem. I use that term because it starts with a fairly small series of events one after another that slowly turn in to a much bigger plot than was intimated at first. The simple Hitchcockian mystery element gets more byzantine as it progresses; even throwing some last second misdirection, making certain things even weirder than they are.

Hell Night (1981)

Hell Night (1981, Compass International)

This is a choice I owe completely to my being invited to participate in my first ever podcast as a guest. Because of that I finally got around to viewing this film. If you want more in depth discussion of the film you can go check that out. For a quick blurb that may convince you, read this:

It may be another slasher, another slasher with college co-eds but it does try to spice things up. Firstly, the four pledges who are locked in the house of ill-repute overnight are two different factions: those very much into the fraternity/sorority process and those not so enamored with the idea, doing it because they feel they have to.

And as mentioned on the podcast, it does masquerade as a haunted house film a bit which gives it an additional layer.

The Neverending Story (Original German Cut) (1984)

The Neverending Story (19484, Warner Bros.)

This was an alternate cut that I didn’t even know existed until I saw an announcement from Diabolik DVD. If you’re interested in specific, detailed explanations of what changes in this version the IMDb does have an exhaustive user-submitted list.

In short: some of the voice talent is different, the score is different, some scenes play out longer and better. You have to be a huge fan of the film to want to pay to get this version (the Blu-Ray is region-free, by the way), but if you are it’s well worth it, as there is a different, at times darker feel to it. It also has a German dub that I may try out one day.

Dead Souls (2012)

Dead Souls (2012, Chiller)

There are a few noteworthy things about this film. First, it’s the newest title and second it’s the only made-for-TV movie that appears on the list. It’s one that I wish I had sneaked into my 2012 BAM Awards. As it stands, I didn’t and it makes an appearance here.

What this film does that’s slightly off the beaten path is that it plays out like a haunted house/ghost story, but also has an element of occult building and that puts it’s own spins on the events.

It leaves its protagonist John (Jesse James) alone much of the time. That’s good for character work, especially when there’s an expressive actor in tow. James has a natural sensitivity that exudes off the screen and allows him to carry the vehicle quite easily. He effortlessly handles the notes he has to play in the film: thoughtful, quiet, scared – and, upon learning what he deals with, feeling an emotional pull to the place and his family he’d never known. He does brilliant work here.

It’s definitely worth checking out.

Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 2 of 5)

This is an list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation)

One theme that was hard to split up among all these lists were the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. While Fassbinder made the lists in 2011 and 2012 I saw one and two films of his in those years respectively. This year I saw quite a bit more, and then got both region 2 box set of his films.

I was more hooked on his work than any other filmmaker this year, and this is the first of his selections that will show up here. The postbellum period in Germany’s history was one of his major preoccupations and while I’ve not yet seen all that’s readily available this appears to be both the most evocative and effective of his works on the time period; whereas Fassbinder paints the portrait of a nation, and a period of time, through the eyes of one woman.

The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin (1952, RKO Radio Picutres)

This is another selection from 31 Days of Oscar and was one of the films I had heard the least about going into my viewing. Here was my initial take:

Here’s another film with a short running time but a hell of a lot of wallop. The setup is great: cops escorting a grand jury witness cross-country to testify against a mobster. When you throw in the fact that it’s a film noir tale, you know you’re gonna be thrown for a loop quite a few times and boy does it have some doozies up its sleeve. This movie’s the kind of good that had me absolutely buzzing after it was over. Amazing.

It was a late night viewing that kept me riveted and is very memorable.

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968, Disney)

Viewed, but not written up, during my March to Disney theme this film had a few surprises in store. Sure enough there were a few staples of Disney live-action musicals within in, especially enjoyable toe-tapping songs; but perhaps most surprising (in a move reflective of the time in which the film was produced, and something that would never happen now) there’s a lot of familial in-fighting of a political nature. Not only that but the backdrop is one of frontier days prior to the Dakotas joining the union. Therefore, there’s also an American history reminder folded neatly into the plot, which if you pay close attention to the Walt Disney World attractions was a favorite of Uncle Walt himself also. There’s much to like in this not-too-frequently-referred-to film.

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

This is a film that was part of my Poverty Row April theme this past year. It’s also an example of how the initial scoring is not always indicative of how lasting a film will be. There was a film that scored higher, in part because of a more generic title, that I had to slip back in to the final post because this one was more memorable.

Here’s a blurb from my original review:

In this film there’s an example of much of what I was talking about as a boy is orphaned one day through two unrelated acts. Both his parents die on the same day. His father has just learned of his mother’s demise when he meets his unfortunate fate. The plot that follows his less high-stakes to an extent, but it is moving. Jean Hersholt is endearing in the lead and Jackie Searl shows his ability to play endearing characters as well as conniving ones, though his Irish accent isn’t that great. It’s a simple film, but a truly enjoyable one in the style that only this era could produce.

This is a film you can find on archive.org.

Blood Car (2007)

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I’m not very up-to-date on HBO and Showtime. I have, at the moment, one show I watch on DVD (i.e. late) from each. I say that by way of an introduction to the fact that I’ve been slow to catch up on the Anna Chlumsky renaissance, most notably HBO’s Veep. Granted she has a supporting role, but this was one of her first roles back from her departure from acting after a promising, if not A-list, career as a young actress.

Blood Car is a hilarious horror/comedy that riffs tremendously on current events and concerns and takes them to absurd extremes for comedic and horrific effect. Fueling automobiles with blood is a tad ridiculous, but how far away from that are we really?

Ariel (1988)

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Over the course of the week via Netflix I finally viewed the Proletariat Trilogy, which I had meant to see for quite some time. I thought that perhaps the films were just going to seem passable, although brisk, a bit off-balance comedically, unique and visual; but then there was Ariel. A man’s father commits suicide and he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Upon escaping from jail he wants to flee the country but of course things don’t go smoothly. I would recommend all the films as they are short and quick-moving but this is the unusually warmest and most human.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

The Gish Sisters

Here’s one I was able to see, yes, because it’s on YouTube but the reason I even looked for it was a blogathon. Silent features, even if you’ve seen more than a few, can be a bit daunting; especially one this lengthy. However, the later the vintage on a silent feature the more like the modern language of film it is, that and this film very quickly absorbs you as I stated in more words in my original post.

Dead Ringer (1964)

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I shouldn’t have to try too hard to sell a film starring Bette Davis and Bette Davis. However, what bears noting is that the film is worth watching for more than just the unique double-starring role for the legend. It’s a classic revenge thriller formula with a great ending and brilliant support from Karl Malden.

The Fly (1958) and Return of the Fly (1959)

The Fly (1958, 20th Century Fox)

I discussed the entire original Fly Trilogy during 61 Days of Halloween. However, they really stood out through now. I took a while to watch the box, and didn’t get in as many new vintage titles during that timeframe this year as I wanted to, but these were great not just on their own but also how they work back to back (as I watched them very close to one another. They make a great double-bill.

Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 1 of 5)

This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974)

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There’s not much that can be said (I’m quite sure) about these two films that hasn’t already been said. Perhaps what is likely more interesting to you who read this is how and why I went so long without seeing these films. I think with a lot of movies it boils down to wanting enough separation from all the hyperbole. I think once I started developing some eclectic tastes that hearing merely that: “It’s great. You HAVE to see it.” became more of a deterrent than an incentive.

Quite frankly I nearly put just part two here because it’s that much better (it’s like watching two amazing movies at the same time) but you can’t have one without the other, and one thing I take solace in is that as opposed to people who saw them as they were released I saw part two a week after part one and only waited 24 hours before being terribly let down by part 3.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Warner Bros.)

I tried to split where I saw these films when creating the five parts of this series. Thus, the likelihood of having consecutive classics is lessened. I saw this film during 31 Days of Oscar.

This was my initial capsule review:

This is an incredibly intricate and thankfully subtle-when-it-counts psychological drama. It also has an interesting approach of showing us what is seemingly your typical, bitter, drunken, couple of academia, then when their guests arrive we start to learn, slowly but surely who they really are, and the portrait painted is shocking, harrowing and really makes you think.

A personal note is that I recall the Walpurgisnacht segment from an acting class I took in college as it was one of the assigned scenes. It was interesting to not only see a film version, but also to be exposed to the entire work.

A Wicked Woman (1934)

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This is a film I saw thanks to TCM, and fittingly features an actor I spotlighted in the Children in Film Blogathon, Jackie Searl. This is a film that offers in his filmography another break from his usually slimy, bratty persona. It’s also one of his older performances from when he could still be considered a young actor and eventually transitioned to adult character roles.

It’s a brisk tale that’s a melodramatic romance. It’s briefer synopsis as offered by the IMDb is rather a simple one:

A mother, who, to save her children from a bestial father and herself from being killed, kills her husband and makes a bargain with God that if she remains free for ten years, in order to raise her children, she will then give herself up to justice.

The complications that could occur are inherent and the film does well to put some unexpected spins on the scenarios that ensue.

Lifeboat (1944)

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This was a year that more and more saw more gray area tales with World War II as a backdrop. However, this one is by no means new. What’s fascinating in this film is that despite its unity of space, and the potential visual doldrums that any seafaring tales can bring on; this film remains vibrant, tense and character-based throughout, and through Old Hollywood magic (and Hitch) is pretty great to look at throughout.

The suspense is palpable because of the characters, how their drawn and the situations they find themselves in.

Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943, RKO)

It seems that some series have some late sequence gold in them. This film in the Weissmuller era, and in the RKO years nonetheless; pulls off quite a miraculous feat in being as enjoyable as it is.

This movie is ridiculously fun to watch. It’s crowd-pleasing aspects drench it and still radiate off the screen to this very day. Having traversed the series anew my expectations were corrected, but even thinking back to where they (the expectations) had been this blew those right out of the water regardless.

You don’t have to watch all the prior Weissmuller Tarzan films to get this one, but you’ll certainly have more of an appreciation of how unexpected this one was if you have.

Blondie (1938)

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When people discuss that sequels are not new they often cite the glut of Blondie films that were made from the late-1930s through the early 1950s. Having gotten a cheap boxset a while back I decided to crack the seal when I heard this cited several times over.

Blondie was still in a fairly consistent rotation through syndicates in the comics section of newspapers when I was young. However, that was a small taste, and lower down the reading list for me. Despite the fact that these films seem to be TV cuts with a later scene of confusion spliced in at the head of the film as a carrot. Regardless, it’s well set-up, still funny and fairly timeless. It’s a series I’ll gladly continue through the next year.

Love on the Run (1979)

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Yes, I had somehow not completed the Antoine Doinel films. I love Truffaut, and somehow I hadn’t. My miscalculation was that there would be a predictable ebb-and-flow to the series. I like The 400 Blows just fine. I don’t hold it as highly as others either in his canon or the whole of his career. But viewing the entire series its a wondrous journey and this is perhaps my favorite. It cannot and would not be viewed out of sequence, as I made such mistakes in the past, but viewed in sequence you may find your own favorite. There’s much magic later on in the series, as opposed to most.

Asylum (1972)

Asylum (1971, Amicus Productions)

I have to admit I had not even heard of Asylum until a few years ago when the horror anthology became something I was more consciously aware of. My reticence again was due to hype. I don’t have sufficient frame of reference to rule this out as the best ever, but while it’s not the one I enjoyed most it is crazy good and a fairly cohesive one as opposed to most.

Dracula (1931; Spanish Version)

Dracula (1931, Universal)

Here’s another case where there’s a classic film that I liked and appreciate but was not as giddy about as some are. When I heard about this foreign-language version (an aspect of the Hollywood system that will probably never cease to fascinate me) I knew I had to see this and may as well get the legacy box.

The alternately scored Dracula
is also great, but this one was made simultaneously with its own original score and while some things are trade-offs (like no Lugosi) some large and some small aspects are so great, and nearly predictive of what I wanted to see in the original.

If anything this is the earliest proof that a remake or alternate version of a film is much like a revival of a stage play: it’s not a replacement, just a different vision and this is one I responded to greatly.

Contenders for Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013

Here is where I will assemble the titles that will have an opportunity to make a list wherein I chronicle my favorite vintage titles that I first saw during the last calendar year. It is a concept introduced to me by Brian Saur that I have done two times prior. Here is the 2011 version. The 2012 version was published in five parts: you can get to them here, here, here, here and here.

I have debated renaming this list Favorite Film Discoveries and being rather semantical about it, meaning if and when I correct gross sins of omission in my cinematic repertoire, it will not exclude lesser known titles from getting their due on this list. In other words, if you note the first two titles below, I expected them to be great and everyone knows they are. My adding them to the 2013 list is a formality and not news to anyone. If the list is inundated with previously unseen, but fairly obviously great films, I may siphon them off into a separate post.

I have not finalized that decision, but I reserve that right. Unlike my BAM considerations where I will now post a new entry monthly, I will have this list run through the entire year, but will denote when titles were added.

Without much further ado the contenders.

January (9)

The Godfather
The Godfather Part II
The Divorcée
Maya
Tarzan of the Apes
The Marriage of Maria Braun
Rio Das Mortes
The Great Ghost Rescue

February (8)

Tarzan the Ape Man
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Narrow Margin
Imitation of Life
A Dog of Flanders
The Life of Emile Zola
Bad Day at Black Rock
Blossoms in the Dust

March (8)

Muppet Treasure Island
Zokkomon
Babes in Toyland
Death Valley
Bolt
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band
A Wicked Woman
Atta Girl, Kelly!

April (11)

Veronika Voss
Time of My Life
The Ghost Walks
Rabid
Tangled Destinies
Hearts of Humanity
The Phantom Express
In Love with Life
Dick Tracy
(1945)
Peter and the Wolf (1995)
Scanners

May (10)

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
Tarzan and His Mate
Stroszek
Mirage
(2004)
In a Year with 13 Moons
Duma
Celia
Blood Car
Life Boat
Little Tough Guy

June (6)

Mon Oncle Antoine
The Merchant of Four Seasons
Rainbow on the River
Tarzan’s Desert Mystery
The Smart Set
Ariel

July (2)

Wake In Fright
Blondie (1938)

August (3)

Stolen Kisses
The Little Prince (Great Performances)
Love on the Run

September (9)

Miss Annie Rooney
To The Left of the Father
Asylum (1972)
Orphans of the Storm
The Return of Dr. X
Dead of Night
The Case of the Bloody Iris
Trilogy of Terror
Sisters

October (12)

Demonic Toys 2
Gorgo
Dracula (1931 -Philip Glass Score)
Dracula (1931 – Spanish Version)
R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour – Don’t Think About It
Dracula’s Daughter
Dead Souls
Hell Night
The Ghosts of Buxley Hall
Dead Ringer
Return of the Fly
The Fly
(1958)

November (1)

The Neverending Story (German Cut)

Short film candidates: Selections by Georges Méliès, Little Rascals, The Show (1922), The New York Hat, Captain Eo and Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade.

60 total features so far and the aforementioned shorts.

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2016

Introduction

This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks wherein he lists his favorite “new-to-me” titles of the prior year. My viewings were down in 2016 overall but there were things worth noting, even things that were not brand new. Some are rather short and can be viewed in their entirety below. For those who prefer features and talkies those can be found toward the end of this post. Enjoy!

Shorts

Many of the older films I was able to see for the first time last year that left an impression on me were both silent and short. The first two are archival shorts of Native Americans.

Sioux Ghost Dance (1894)

Buffalo Dance (1894)

Many of these short silents inspired me to start on a theme commemorating film firsts. Here is the first time the Statue of Liberty was filmed.

Statue of Liberty (1898)

Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theatre (1901)

Pan-American Exposition by Night (1901)

Georges Méliès almost always makes an appearance.

The Temptation of St. Anthony (1898)

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Now, a short film by Mike Leigh. I need to see the rest of these five-minute titles.

Five-Minute Films: The Birth of the Goalie of the 2001 F.A. Cup Final (1982)

Faces of November (1964)

John F. Kennedy Jr. Saluting His Father at Funeral

I got and saw the Kennedy films set from Criterion. Two of them made enough impact to land on this list. One dealt with the aftermath of the assassination.

Karin’s Face (1984)

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Any newly seen Bergman is worth noting even if it’s shot that is a study in stills and dissolves focused on his mother’s face.

Features

City of the Dead (1960)

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As much as this film relishes the artifices of more classical horror techniques its rooting itself in historical precedent and wanting to carve a fictional enclave amidst historical happenings is highly commendable indeed. One might watch this film and consider it to be dated. However, with older films that is a conversation that is mostly moot to me. All films are created for the times in which they exist, even ones borrowing older techniques. Timelessness is an alchemistic accident that cannot be manufactured.

Primary (1960)

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Also in the Robert Drew & Associates box set from Criterion is a feature called Primary which focused mostly on Kennedy’s campaign to try and win the Wisconsin primary.

Kamikaze 1989 (1982)

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“This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.”

Antonia’s Line (1995)

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“As if this film needs more accolades it is indeed one of those Academy Award winners that quote, truly deserved it, unquote. It’s a film that’s so good that I find it nearly an affront to it to discuss the feminist merits of it in the context of a standard review. Watch it, you’ll know what I mean. It’s spectacular.”

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014: Part Four (The 2000s)

This is the same idea as “Favorite Older Films First Viewed in” which I did since 2011. The idea was one I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. I have usually done the list in parts. This time I will find ways to group the films.

My first installment can be found here. The second installment can be found here, and part three here. In this installment I will focus on a segment of films I do not discount from a list like this: Post-2000 releases. Since I have an annual award anything else is usually eligible, I do usually try to keep them a bit older, but 2014 was rather different in a few regards.


Miracle in Bern (2003)

Miracle in Bern (2003, Universal)

One thing that was a bit of predestination it would seem is that prior to the 2014 World Cup I watched two German films that were football (soccer) themed. The first being a story surrounding West Germany’s unlikely win in 1954 that focuses on the scorer of the eventual clinching goal in the final against Hungary and the young boy who idolizes him and is like a good luck charm. On a footballing note one interesting factoid is that the club the boy is a fanatic of, and the goalscorer Helmut Rahn played for; Rott Weiss-Essen has since fallen by the wayside in the tiers of the German Bundesliga.

It’s a film that works a number of plots very well and has very realistic, and time-appropriate football action. It’s only available on region 2 disc but it well worth watching if you can, especially for fans of the sport.


The Wild Soccer Bunch 4 (2007)

The Wild Soccer Bunch 4 (2007, Ratpack)

In Joachim Masannek’s film adaptations of his football-themed books it seems each installment is odder than the last. While no title in this series has the balance, cast or layers that his most recent title V8 does, this film is enjoyable in its own right and likely the oddest of the lot that stands five films deep, and threatens to grow.

This one is only available on region 2 as an import and is recommended for fans of children’s film, football and the weird.

Real Injun (2009)

Reel Injun (2009, Kino Lorber)

In what was an all-too-rare experiment I watched this film on the Kino Lorber app I watched this film free, with a 60-90 second commercial break per 10 minutes. It usually only costs a dollar to by pass the commercials.

This is a fascinating, eye-opening doc that discusses the changing face of the Native Americans on film. It delves into how stereotypes developed and how they either influenced, played off or ran counter to societal perceptions through the ages. With any group examining the portrayal they have had on film is crucial and this one stands with The Celluloid Closet and Bamboozled as powerful statements on depictions of minority groups in American cinema.

The Famous Five (2012)

The Famous Five (2012, Beta Cinema)

When you dig around through international releases long enough it becomes quite interesting to discover what films, books, shows, music, etc. register abroad that may not have quite such an impact in your home culture. Such is the case of The Famous Five series.

Prior to discovering this current incarnation of these cinematic adaptations I was unfamiliar with the series and author Enid Blyton both. As it turns out both this series and her works continue to be very popular both in her abroad and in her native England. Though she died in 1968 she was one of the top 10 selling authors in the UK during the first 10 years of the 21st century. Her film adaptations to date have been all overseas. The first two were serials in 1957 and 1964 in the UK. Then in 1969 and 1970 there were two adaptations in Denmark. The current German series is the most prolific and most profitable at the box office to date.

I went into part three blind to all these facts, as well as to the cinematic backstory that accompanied these films. Therefore, I backtracked to be better able to appraise these films on their own merits, including how this particular film worked in conjunction with the other two.

The Famous Five feature a familiar formula of smart kids who get embroiled in mysterious capers by chance or insistence and save the day. The fact that there are two boys, two girls and an extra-smart dog make the best of The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Rin Tin Tin rolled into one.

The original in the new series is available on Blu-Ray in Germany with English subtitles and does offer the kinds of smart kid-based adventure film that’s too rare here.

This concludes the 2014 list. See you next year!

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014: Part Three (Assorted Features)

This is the same idea as “Favorite Older Films First Viewed in” which I did since 2011. The idea was one I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. I have usually done the list in parts. This time I will find ways to group the films.

My first installment can be found here. The second installment can be found here. In this installment I will focus on a mixed bag of films thematically and based on release date.

Officer 13 (1932)

Officer 13 (1934)

In this year’s Poverty Row April post I said I’d dedicate Sundays to sharing features. However, I missed last week so I will get two up this weekend.

When I found out that this was available from Alpha Home Video I did not find it on the Internet Archive. It has surfaced since I saw it. This film features early performances by both Mickey Rooney and Jackie Searl.

The film deals with a cop who seeks vigilante justice when the system won’t find solutions. It’s a surprisingly effective title.

To view the film go here.

Emil and the Detectives (1931)

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

A later remake of this story appeared on my list a few years back. I saw this and the 1935 version for the Billy Wilder blogathon. Here was my take on it it from there:

Emil and the Detectives (1931)

Emil und die Detektive (1931, Ufa)

My first exposure to this tale in anyway was the 1964 Walt Disney-produced version. Interestingly enough it ends up being rather a hybrid of the first two adaptations of the novel onto film. The actors are American but the story is German-set. As one would expect Disney is still Disney but much of the charm of the story still exists and it was one of my favorite film discoveries of 2012.

This tale is German and translated, but with a solid cast, very well-composed cinematography and an engaging storyline it works fairly well.

Clearly the standout the first time around was the visual-flair. The kids’ world with adults on the periphery is there, it’s adventurous and fun but a safe world. What Wilder and the team brought to the 1931 tale, that is likely also part of the fabric of the book, is that there is a naturalism to it, which when dealing with a crime and solving it means there is an inherent level of danger. With Disney some of the edge is taken off and its clubhouse-like. What is delightful to see the seeming opposites co-exist naturally.

What was written by the New York Herald seems well warranted and rings true to this day:

“The great simplicity in design and execution, the perfect naturalness and the move away from that particular sentimental hypocrisy and affectation, which often viewed as an inevitable prerequisite of cinematic oeuvre.”

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

While sticking fairly close to the source Wilder taps into and accentuates some of the universal truths of this tale and storytelling for young people that this narrative highlights. First, there is the introduction of the audience to “another world.” Though not a fantasy world in any sense, but rather just the big city we are still viewing somewhere fairly unknown to the protagonist and perhaps to us as well. The creation and depiction of the outsider is perfectly played.

Something that Michael Rosen underscored that I had never quite put my finger on is the following:

“I’ve always felt that children’s books that last the best are those which engender a sense of yearning in the child: you want to be there, you want to be them, you want to be as clever or as lucky as them. For me Emil and the Detectives has this in bucketloads.”

I would go so far as to extend that notion to any great children’s literature read at any age. For example, I first read Harry Potter in my senior year of High School, if I’m not mistaken, and as I made my way through that series I had that sense of yearning also.

Now something else Disney did was to add a more fantastical feel to the tale. Whereas what was shocking and controversial about the book, and handled so well by the original film versions, was the naturalness of the setting in which these children find themselves. It isn’t a fantasy or a far off world, but rather these kids, much like those that lived at that time, much like you or I in real city with a very real problem. Perhaps it is that singular notion that has kept the story alive even through a period where the Nazis tried to rewrite German culture and Europe and the world wasn’t as willing to dabble in anything Teutonic.

Emil and the Detectives (1929)

The trajectory of the project is one that will look familiar. It’s not that unlike a hot literary project today. It was published in 1929 was an almost instant hit. In 1930 a version hit the German stage, the adaptation by Kästner himself. The film rights were then picked up by Ufa. Although, a relative unknown at this point Wilder ended up working on versions of the film with Kästner and others. The success of People on Sunday had allowed him to become a professional screenwriter that the studio would tap for such an important project as this one.

One thing that the 1931 Emil and the Detectives excels at is visual storytelling. It is one of the earliest and most important German sound films but it is not as stagebound as many early US talkies are. There are montages, moving shots around Berlin and a wondrous impressionistic dream sequence which is breathtaking. Suspense is built by watching, following or hiding and not dependent on dialogue exchanges for too much.

Film Quarterly in 1933 astutely stated that:

“It is remarkable that the cinema all but ignores the very considerable audience of children that supports it; and it is tragic that the few films specially made for children lead one to wish that they had been ignored.”

This a lead-in to praise for this film, and in many ways, that can still be true today what’s key is that that the filmic touches are left to the apt maneuvering of the crew behind the scenes and the kids for lack of a better term just have to be themselves and seem to be selected specifically to be able to “be” their part rather than “play” it.

Emil and the Detectives (1931, Ufa)

As the date on the Film Quarterly review indicates the original film version had quite a legacy. While sadly many of the young actors who took part in the film would end up dying on the front in World War II it did launch an acting career for three of its cast members Hans Richter, Martin Rickelt (then Baumann) and Inge Landgut.

Such was its continued success that it was showed on Christmas in 1937 as Wilder was in the US and Kästner was forbidden to write.

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

What the Peeper Saw (1971, VCI Entertainment)

This is one I had known of for quite some time but was unavailable on video until this last year. Thanks to VCI Entertainment’s limited run it enjoys a new day in the sun. Just knowing that Brit Eklund stars in it (star of some of the better-known gialli), and Mark Lester playing as against his Oliver! persona as possible (as seemed to be the idea behind all his choices of roles after it) are intriguing enough. Add to it the diabolical mindgames between stepmother and stepson, and the twists this tale takes and it’s highly entertaining and still rather shocking. Quite worth looking into if you’re intrigued and not dissuaded by a dysfunctional family feud.

Children of the Moon (a.k.a Mondscheinkinder) (2006)

Mondscheinkinder (2006, Piffl Medien)

This is a visually imaginative, creative film about a child isolated by a rare photosensitive condition, his dreams and his best friend who acts as sister and protector to him. It features tremendous voice-over, creative use of animation. It’s touching, entertaining and well acted.

This series will conclude on Monday.