Many films have been made of unique Holocaust related issues, scenarios and subjects. This is one of them. The children of Windermere were a group of refugees who made their way to England during the Holocaust to recover and ultimately resettle and make new lives. The film begins promisingly with the children's expected mistrust of their hosts and over-appreciation for simple slices of bread once in England. After the initial opening scenes and expected adaptation difficulties, the film combines scattered scenes featuring a few of the refugees, but they don't add up to much until near the end. The last ten minutes or so are great, leading up to some of the actual refugees thoughts in old age. For such a unique story, even for the Holocaust, the scenes are not really linked in a way that is compelling enough given the subject matter. We never learn enough about the characters, based on real people, to care enough about what happens, and the film loses some steam half way through before picking up again in the last half hour. Still worth a watch to learn about another of one of the many pockets of people affected by the Holocaust. 2 1/2 of 4 stars.
Demme's Feature Film Debut Is Slightly Above Average Women's Prison Film
Director Jonathan Demme's feature film debut, Caged Heat, starts off promisingly with lurid humor, has some stylistic touches, drags slightly half-way through and then finishes in typical drive-in fashion. The film is a potpourri of exploitative women's prison cliches, such as cat fighting, lurid humor (which disappears quickly), male perversion, multiple shower scenes, quick flashes of female nudity and a subdued star turn as the prison matron by Barbara Steele. Interestingly, Steele is referred to as the warden (which is the male term for head of the prison). Forget the typical plot and enjoy the female anatomy displayed throughout and the odd assortment of female actresses included in the film, several of whom had hard luck careers and lives. The shooting scenes are laughable and painfully lacking in special effects in comparison to even other films of the period. In retrospect, film appears to be typical drive-in fare of the period. Considered a cult film by many, but really no more than a slightly above average version of its type. No hints of the Director who would go on to direct Silence Of The Lambs. 2 1/2 of 4 stars.
John Nesbitt's Passing Parade Shorts were seen in theaters from the late 1930's through the late 1940's. Many of them were interesting and often times topical. This particular short deals with a school teacher who becomes a shut-in after declining to marry a soldier over a silly argument. The decades go by until, lo and behold, her teaching instincts identify the needs of children coinciding with the outbreak of World War II. While the mental health aspect of the short is appealing , especially for the time period, it still comes off as a bit of propaganda at the end with the typical call to individual action.
The Extraordinary Seaman directed by John Frankenheimer is puzzling in the sense that how could a film directed by Frankenheimer, which includes performances by David Niven, Faye Dunaway, Alan Alda, Mickey Rooney, and Jack Carter, and music by Maurice Jarre not be entertaining? After a string of successes from the beginning of his career in the 1950's with television drama through the 1960's with several film classics, Frankenheimer failed miserably with this film. Due to the short running time of 80 minutes compared to the usual much longer running times for his previous films, one wonders whether the film was taken out of Frankenheimer's hands at one point.
Niven is an old sea captain who has a secret, later discovered by the over-acting Alda, who nearly sleepwalks through his role. Dunaway starts out promising as a woman who can help a crew or hinder it, but shortly after boarding ship, Dunaway's role becomes forgettable. Alda overacts his way through the film progressively more as the film unfolds, and his forced romance with Dunaway makes her seem uncomfortable in the film. Rooney and Carter, who can both be very funny when given something to work with, are completely wasted with little or nothing to do.
The film purports to be an adventure/comedy but it's neither interesting nor funny, and the non-existent story just falls flat long before the revelation, which occurs an hour into the film. The denouement is a preposterous letdown. The most interesting parts of the film are the archival footage edited in to the film for what was probably intended to be comedic/ironic effect. However, the old clips took up almost a quarter of the film, which means there wasn't much to watch to begin with. A huge waste of talent considering those involved. 0 of ****.
Georges Melies' film The Conquest Of The Pole is similar to several of his earlier adventure films except this film is much longer than most. As a result, many viewers claim this film is not quite as good as the others due to the padding of some scenes, especially the flying to the North Pole sequence when the aircraft passes constellation after constellation. The aircraft, though crude and ridiculously unrealistic, is synonymous with the backdrop/sets and other effects in the film. Remember, The Wright Brothers had only paved the way for air travel a few years before. Once at the pole, terrific action sequences occur with an ice monster of some sort followed by a rescue. By now Melies had fallen behind the times with developing film techniques, such as crosscutting, meaning Melies' development as a filmmaker was related more to his being a magician and an effects wizard and not necessarily his being a storyteller. The only issue in the film is there are only five explorers visible at the pole when several more were selected to go to begin with. *** of 4 stars.
Melies' Inventiveness Meets Salaciousness In Eclipse
By the time this film was released in 1907, Melies best days were behind him according to most film historians. However, this may be the only Georges Melies film requiring a PG-13 rating at least. The film is bookended with some comical sidelights about a stuffed shirt lecturer played by Melies who interacts (not always with aplomb) with a bunch of rowdy students who eventually do seem genuinely interested in viewing the subject matter at hand: an eclipse. Once again, the special effects of Melies are wonderful, first an eclipse in the form of human faces superimposed on images of the sun and moon, then some of the other heavenly bodies appear (literally!) like Venus, etc., followed by what appears to be a meteor shower. As some reviewers have noted, the eclipse scene is jaw-dropping for its time with its obvious eroticism, and unlike most of the rest of Georges Melies' films, you may want to remove children from the room when viewing this film. *** of 4 stars.
A trip To The Moon is one of the earliest examples of science fiction put on the screen. The film is based upon the Jules Verne novel From The Earth To The Moon. It also is one of the earliest films to capture a conflict between two different cultures of people in that the six astronomers sent to the moon end up battling the inhabitants of the moon for apparently no good reason aside from propelling the action of the film, and nothing propels the action better than conflict. The narrative is clear, and the backdrops/sets, cinematography, editing, and special effects are all top notch for their time. Georges Melies set the stage for many subsequent space travel films to come decades later. This one of Georges Melies' best known films. A must watch. *** of 4 stars.
Georges Melies did a lot of "nonsense" films like this one entitled The Cook In Trouble. The scenario is similar to many of Melies' other films like this in that a central character or characters are pestered or obstructed by a less likable or unlikable character or characters, in this case a cook is trying to be particular about preparing a big meal when he is accosted by a wizard who conjures a few imps in order to pester the cook. The entire film plays out in subsequent silent slapstick fashion with the imps disappearing and then reappearing to continue to interfere with the cook's preparations. Once the imps are spied by the cook, they move, leap, and tumble about through the labyrinthine backdrop Melies has created to propel the action in a circular manner on the stage; where as, larger outdoor sets and/or rear screen projection would take over for such scenes in the future. **1/2 of 4 stars.
Georges Melies revisits one of his frequent motifs that of a character with an occupation who is frustrated possibly and then goes off into dreamland where things seem to be more exciting or to work themselves out. Here a composer finds himself possibly frustrated with a piece of music, conjures up the muses while asleep, and then is surrounded by various dance hall girls who at first are elegant and then grow more robust in the form of what appears to be can-can dancers near the end. The best trick shot does not appear until the very end. The film really offers nothing new for Georges Melies fans, but as with each Melies film, it's still very much viewable entertainment. ** of 4 stars.
Georges Melies filmed brief sketches many times like he did here with The Black Imp; it's simply an excuse for Melies to display his jump-cutting tricks, which are executed almost to perfection. For the time though, it must have been hilarious. Here a man tries to get some rest at an inn only to slowly discover his room is haunted by a mischievous imp. The imp wreaks havoc with the furniture, multiplying it at will so it appears the chairs are following the man like an invisible man, very clever indeed. The film makes it clear near the end the man has dreamed this whole thing up while receiving assistance from several individuals; meanwhile, the imp returns to take some rest in the man's bed. The whole thing is similar to many other Melies' films in that it's a metaphor for the creator (Melies) interacting with the audience, but it's still a delight. *** of 4 stars.
In this brief film, Georges Melies depicts the Greek version of Jupiter: Zeus. There is no explanation for this shift in mythological focus, but the film is nothing more than an excuse for the Zeus character to fret and dance about while trying to figure out why his thunder balls do not work properly. In so doing, Zeus draws upon the muses to help him out it seems, but they do little aside from dancing about with him. The actual trick of the film is not featured until near the end, and it really is not much after all. This film is a one-note, one set film much like The Cake-Walk Infernal with the heavy use of smoke as a special effect. **1/2 of 4 stars.
Georges Melies puts together an amazing (for its time) narrative about a prince and princess kept apart by a scheming witch, and the prince is thrust into a journey to rescue the princess by traveling through and receiving assistance from Neptune, the god of the sea, and his cohorts. The entire film, at least the print I saw, is hand-painted, color-tinted, and it's simply amazing. The costumes, sets, backdrops, props, model work, and special effects are all superb not only for its time but for the entire silent era. The framing and composition of scenes is superior and the acting is more than acceptable, considering the exaggerated mannerisms which were already creeping into films at the time followed by more of an on-rush of them in the two decades to come. The color is reminiscent of illustrations in books, which appeared in the early decades of the twentieth century, and it adds greatly to the fantasy/mythological elements portrayed in the film. Melies expertly weaves his narrative utilizing all of the aforementioned elements in expert fashion. *** of 4 stars.
This film, The Cake-Walk Infernal, is one of silent pioneer Georges Melies' most well known films. There isn't much of a story as much as a succession of images, which Melies energetically parades across the screen with his usual doses of interesting backdrops and costumed characters. At times, some of Melies' films can be overly stagy, and this is one such film. Some common motifs in Melies' films appear here as in characters or objects appearing, disappearing, and reappearing again, the use of smoke effects for transitions, the use of stop action motion, and Melies' appearance as a character with a devilish costume. **1/2 of 4 stars.
Georges Melies filmed a few brief scenes of Gulliver's Travels here, which on their own barely follow a loose narrative, unless one has assumed knowledge of the Jonathan Swift book. The main attraction here is Melies' combination of the miniatures with the large Gulliver, and the small Gulliver with the giants. For its age, the film addresses the effect well, although there are some shaky spots of superimposition in the film which the viewer can readily see. The hand-painted characters are an early example of color tinting, which was quite rare at the turn of the century and for many years thereafter. This is also an example of Melies basing his material on another medium instead of relying upon his own devices, which were often repetitive uses of conjurers, demonic figures, magicians, etc. *** of 4 stars.
Georges Melies once again plays a magician who performs an endless series of sight gags with the assistance of stop action motion and with the foreground superimposed on the background in precisely exact manner to gain a desired effect. The opening human pump trick is probably the best, as the film simply flip-flops between humans and various objects, which then morph into other things. Melies is now over-utilizing the stop action motion to the point of inhibiting further creativity, but the edits are worked to perfection and occur so quickly that one does not tire of the repeated use of the technique until the film is over. *** of 4 stars.
Georges Melies, in the The Devil And The Statue, continues his expert use of stop action motion and also uses the effect of making the devil character, played by Melies himself, a progressively giant figure. It's difficult to tell whether he uses multiple exposures and combines them via superimposition or some other combination or technique, but it is unique for the time. The male and female characters are supposedly Romeo and Juliet type characters, but one would have to research the notes for this film to know whether they are or not, as there are no real outward signs that are too obvious. The male character is quickly neutralized by the devil character, who frightens the female character. At that point, a Madonna type statue comes to life on the far right of the screen and intercedes on the female character's behalf. The interesting thing is the size changes in the devil character mirror and are a direct result of the actions of first the devil character and then the Madonna. *** of 4 stars.
In The One-Man Band, Georges Melies uses multiple exposure photography to show himself as several band members playing different instruments in unison. Melies also continues to use jump-cut editing to make objects appear and disappear (the chairs in this case) and advance the action. The work it must have taken Melies to synchronize the footage must have been extraordinary. Just as Melies makes the likenesses of himself as band members appear, he makes them disappear also echoing the many other previous films he's done with creating a scenario and then dismantling it in the context of a sole creator/creative force. *** of 4 stars.
Here in this film Georges Melies advanced to using two likenesses of himself who end up battling over a female who is conjured from a body-less head, which appears on a table top. The one likeness of Melies crawls around underneath the table with the lady's head above, making it appear as if there is some sort of magic going on to the audience. However, Melies once again uses jump-cuts to good effect. A third likeness of Melies appears in a devilish costume and displays magic superior to the others', causing the scenario to end and the likenesses of Melies to disperse. Melies was not so subtly reminding the audience of the creative force in filmmaking, a force which was new and mysterious to audience members of the time. *** of 4 stars.
In some of his earlier films, Georges Melies used jump-cutting and/or freeze-framing to propel the action and/or change the scene. In this film, A Nightmare, Melies continues using the jump-cut technique, but he now combines this with changing the backdrops in each successive scene. A man has a nightmare, dreams of a clown, etc. until the moon itself is upon the man and trying to take a bite out of him. The moon is hopelessly made out of some cardboard or other such material flexing around from the way it's hung, but the film shows man interacting with his dreams and then returns him to reality at the end. Melies has begun film's fascination with fantasy and perhaps science fiction as well. *** of 4 stars.
Georges Melies purchased the exhibition theater of the French magician Robert Houdin and used it for filming many of his films with innovative camera-work, in this case jump- cutting and freeze-framing. Instead of just filming a scene in one take as the earlier actuality films, Melies edits (almost seamlessly) a couple scenes together so that a woman (Jeanne d'Alcy) appears to disappear, turn into a skeleton, and then reappears as part of his magic act. The film makes it rather obvious now, but back then, this film must have been shocking to original audiences who had nary a clue as to how the effect was accomplished. This editing technique would lead to other wide-spread use of editing film. **1/2 of 4 stars.
This Oscar-nominated short film is given the self-righteous treatment at the advent of the Cold War. The film gives a brief look at important highlights of American History minus the uncomfortable parts, such as the bloodshed it took to win independence, the displacement of American Indians from independence to westward expansion, the issue of slavery during the Civil War, the Holocaust, and the many periods of ethnic discrimination occurring along with major events. For instance, there was exploitation of Asians for manual labor during the transcontinental railroad construction. Both the look and the tone of the film, without the unpleasant aspects of history which accompanied major events, gives this film all the credibility of a propaganda film. Regardless of its intent, the presentation of historical subject matter should always have more balance than what is presented in this film. A superficial flag-waver of its era. **1/2 of 4 stars.
An early film directed by and starring Georges Melies himself (positioned in the center of the card players), the film is nothing more than an exercise in composition, framing, and posing for the camera. Many early films like this, now lost to time, depicted the same innocuous scenarios of people interacting in common, routine scenarios, and the entertainment was more or less the fact that such a scene with interacting people in it could be filmed and watched after the fact. There are no special directorial touches in the film, which Melies would later be noted for, but the simple setting of three chaps playing cards, drinking, and having a barmaid drop by is an echo from a long ago era. ** of 4 stars.
Judy Garland stars as 'Pinkie' Wingate, a teenager trying to steer her mother Dottie (Mary Astor) toward happiness with the help of 'Buzz' Mitchell (Freddie Bartholomew). Along the way they deal with brother Billie's (Scotty Beckett) antics, and shop for a husband in the form of Walter Pidgeon and Alan Hale in order to avoid Gene Lockhart's overtures. Freddie Bartholomew as Buzz offers focus for Judy's 'Pinkie', but other viewers may find it a bit much that he attempts to advise Dottie about her affairs. Scotty Beckett as Billy is as much annoying as he is attention-getting. Mary Astor and Walter Pidgeon create some measure of brief magic while on screen together. Charley Grapewin, who would soon play Uncle Henry in The Wizard Of Oz, plays Uncle Joe here. Judy sings her signature tune Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart, The Bumpy Road To Love, and Ten Pins In The Sky. The film is a fast-moving, escapist, comedy drama with a family viewing perspective. **1/2 of 4 stars.
The fourth go-round for the Hardy family has Emily Hardy (Fay Holden) and Aunt Millie (Betty Ross Clarke) off to visit their mother in Canada because of a stroke. Sister Marian (Cecilia Parker) tries to keep house until the convenient arrival of a cook hired by Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone). In the meantime, Andy (Mickey Rooney) has to figure out how to pay for a used car the "right way" without taking advantage of others. Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) is off to her grandmother's for the holidays, and Andy thinks he has figured out how to pay for his used car until he's forced to juggle multiple females, including Polly, Cynthia Potter (a nearly 17 year old Lana Turner), and Betsy Booth (Judy Garland). What a chore! Rooney's energy is more than enough, Garland's charm is abundant, and Turner's allure apparent. Marie Blake, who appears as Augusta the cook, and Raymond Hatton, as Peter Dugan, both had long careers as character actors. George P. Breakston makes his first appearance as "Beezy" Anderson in the series. Judy sings several songs including "What Do You Know About Love", "In-Between", "It Never Rains, But What It Pours", and "Meet The Beat Of My Heart". According to a comment on IMDb, this film was the first appearance of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland together, but that is not true. Thoroughbreds Don't Cry from 1937 was their first co-starring film together. In 2000, the film made the National Film Registry list. *** of 4 Stars.
Following Judy Garland's debut film Pigskin Parade released in October of 1936, MGM wondered what to do with Garland and placed her in this short with the St. Luke's Episcopal Choristers of Long Beach. Garland sings Silent Night and the short ends. One wonders what the original purpose of the one song short was. Was it shown in movie theaters? Is it all that remains of additional footage? It's enough to showcase Garland's singing talent in a way that said the powers that be must make appropriate use of her talent in the future, and eventually they did. Afterward, Garland made appearances in several low budget films which featured her talent.