Tag Archives: 1957

CAPSULE: THE GIANT CLAW (1957)

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DIRECTED BY: Fred F. Sears

FEATURING: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Edgar Barrier

PLOT: When an unidentified flying object terrorizing the globe is discovered to be an enormous, grotesque bird, the planet’s collective scientific brainpower and military might are brought to bear against the winged menace.

Still from The Giant Claw (1957)

COMMENTS: One of the great stories of cinema is the tale surrounding the production of Jaws. It seems the robotic shark that was built to terrorize the citizens of Amity was temperamental at best, unusable at worst. Accordingly, director Steven Spielberg was forced to scrap many of the intended scenes featuring the automated predator, instead resorting to obfuscatory tricks to keep the villain hidden until the last possible moment. This ended up working to the film’s benefit, as the star’s delayed entrance only served to magnify the tension. Spielberg had stumbled backwards into brilliance.

Of course, it’s questionable how much his tactics would have worked had the ultimate reveal of the shark not paid off the suspense. Once the chum-shoveling Roy Scheider comes face-to-face with Bruce the animatronic carcharodon, then we’re off to the races, because the reveal has justified the withholding. You can believe your eyes. It is the black-eyed, remorseless killing machine we were promised.

In some respects, The Giant Claw faces precisely the same dilemma. The filmmakers want to hold back the full and awesome power of their beast for as long as possible. We get hints, of course: blurry visions of an airborne foe, evocative descriptions of a flying creature “the size of a battleship,” an enormous footprint indicating the immensity of the monster, and many Spielbergian stares into the unseen maw of a force to terrible to behold. But at some point, the monster has to be revealed. And when at last it is… my goodness, how can I do this justice? Can it even be conveyed? I mean, here are just a few examples of my peers attempting to reckon with this thing:

All true, and that last one probably comes closest to illustrating just Continue reading CAPSULE: THE GIANT CLAW (1957)

CAPSULE: LA CRAVATE (1957)

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DIRECTED BY: , Saul Gilbert, Ruth Michelly

FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Raymond Devos

PLOT: A man patronizes a shop that sells human heads, trying to find one which will please his beloved.

Still from La Cravate (1957)

COMMENTS: It took me a while to realize that the baby-faced, clean-shaven, curly-headed protagonist of “La Cravate” was actually director Alejandro Jodorowsky as a young man. The director’s early style, as seen in this mime piece, is almost as unrecognizable as his face; but look hard and you can see the seeds of themes and styles that would haunt his later work, in primitive and innocent forms. There may be none of the shock imagery, no blood or nudity or deformity, no pools of bunny blood or lactating hermaphrodites; but the theatricality, the spirit of the circus, the focus on archetypes rather than characters, the eyes turned always towards the strange, all are here in germinal form.

Created as a 28-year old expatriate studying pantomime in Paris, “La Cravate” is just about exactly the kind of production you’d expect from someone who was palling up with avant-gardists and André Breton while interning with . It’s essentially a silent film, with a soundtrack supplied mostly by calliope and accordion. Like a collection of s and s, the characters communicate humorously and non-verbally. Jodorwosky’s rival’s arrogance is obvious from his dismissive glances and the way he slides in front of the slimmer man to gaze into a shop window, forcing Jodorowsky to keep peeking over and around his broad frame. Alternating smiles and scowls, his inamorata jerks Jodorowsky backwards and forwards like a hooked fish on a line. The characters act in front of painted backdrops representing both the interiors and city streets. From the beginning, Jodorowsky is utterly uninterested in realism as a style, even if the conventional theatricality here isn’t as unique and radical a break from norms as the surreality of his successive works would come to be.

Since the plot involves a literal head shop where noggins can be swapped out at will, the story is macabre, but whimsically so. This short might delight children, which is something that can’t be said for the rest of Jodorowsky’s corpus. Although the director’s future mystical/philosophical preoccupations don’t show up here, the scenario toys lightly with the concept of identity. Once the protagonist’s head is (willingly) detached, has he been split in two? The head seems perfectly happy perched on the shopkeeper’s mantle, where he can play fruit checkers by nodding his approval of the appropriate move, and serenade his owner with a recorder sonata in the evening. [efn_note]The dynamic between Jodorowsky’s detached head and the shopkeeper whose arms manipulate objects for him prefigures the mother-son relationship in Santa Sangre, though this appears to be a coincidence more than a continuing theme[/efn_note]. When his rival’s head is placed on his old body, it continues to try to seduce the cold woman, then shows buyer’s remorse and longs for reunion with its original face. If anything, the main personality seems to inhere in the costume, symbolized by the long purple cravate (which very nearly ends up doing duty as a noose). Weird stuff, when you think about it, although the whole scenario slides through the mind casually as a charmingly cartoonish fancy.

“La Cravate” was inspired by a Thomas Mann story. Co-star Raymond Devos went on to become a successful French comedian (even making an appearance in Pierrot le Fou). The film was once believed to be lost, but a print was discovered in 2006. You can only find it as an extra on Jodorowsky box sets.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This odd comedy manages to incorporate a bit of the absurd and the surreal on a light level.”–Adrian Halen, HorrorNews.net (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “quirkdee” with a simple “its AJ’s first nuff said.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 5-6 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, AND THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SUPERMAN

Previous installments of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide : Season, 1, Part ISeason 1, Part II – Season 2 Seasons 3 & 4

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Peril in Paris (dir. George Blair) is an ignominious opener for the fifth season. Diamond thieves have plundered the City of Love in an episode which could have used Grace Kelly.

Tin Hero (dir. Blair) is a slow news day, but Daily Planet subscribers aren’t the only ones suffering from boredom.

The Town That Wasn’t (dir. Blair): Gangsters use a mobile town to catch unsuspecting motorists in speed traps. Crimes are perpetrated and the law is evaded until Superman sets things right.

Tomb of Zaharan (dir. Blair) is awfully dull going for an episode dealing with reincarnation and Egyptian queens. At least Perry White gets some enjoyment in seeing his ace reporters stripped down and humiliated.

The Man Who Made Dreams Come True (dir. Blair): Who would ever guess that superstition could be a channel to the monarchy? Lois gets gagged tied yet again, and manages to render that fetish dull.

Disappearing Lois (dir. Harry W. Gerstad): Lois goes undercover to oust Lefty the gangster in a fun episode. Spanish Fly meets French Maid.

Money to Burn (dir. Gerstad): Arsonists burn the Daily Planet. Perry White waxes suspicious before being abducted. A Super fireman comes to the rescue.  Superman with a fire hose… Ding! Turn the page! Can’t wait for the action figure set. Cool stuff.

Close Shave (dir. Gerstad): Crooked barbers. Lois gagged and tied. What more can you ask for?

The Phony Alibi (dir. Blair): Professor Pepperwinkle has invented another useless device straight out of Dr. Seuss. This one teleports people through telephone lines. Lois shows off her “come hither” pearl necklace.

The Prince Albert Coat (dir. Gerstad): Life savings accidentally given away in a coat pocket… stop the presses, this is a story! Actually, all turns out well, and we’re relieved.

The Stolen Elephant (dir. Gerstad): Poor Jimmy thinks he didn’t get anything for his birthday, but lo and behold, Mom placed an elephant in his shed. Sad to say, but bad kidnappers want the elephant too. Nail-biting suspense.

Still from "Mr. Zero" from "the Adventures of Superman"Mr. Zero (dir. Gerstad) is the nadir of the entire series, and quite possibly the most execrable thirty minutes to ever disgrace the idiot box. It’s a cardboard takeoff of a comic villain and a pain-inducing endurance test. If it borders on masochism for its viewers, one can only Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 5-6 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, AND THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SUPERMAN

155. THE SINGING RINGING TREE (1957)

Das Singende, Klingende Bäumchen

“The following program will terrify anyone who remembers how BBC Children’s TV decided bizarre East German fairy tales were good for us. But everyone else needs to know why so many are still suffering the consequences.”–2002 BBC Radio broadcast reminiscing about The Singing Ringing Tree

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Francesco Stefani

FEATURING: Christel Bodenstein, Eckart Dux, Richard Krüger, Charles Hans Vogt

PLOT: A handsome prince journeys to a foreign kingdom to seek the hand of an arrogant princess, but she refuses his gift and demands he bring her the legendary singing ringing tree instead. The prince discovers the tree in a magical kingdom ruled over by a mischievous dwarf, who tells him he can have the tree, but it will not sing until the princess loves him. Later, an unwise wish turns the prince into a bear, and he abducts the princess and takes her to live with him.

Still from The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)
BACKGROUND:

  • Film adaptations of old folktales were a popular genre in Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War, but the genre was seldom attempted in the West, excepting Disney-style animated films that smoothed out the rough edges of the stories. In East Germany these movies were collectively known as “Märchenfilme.”
  • The Singing Ringing Tree is clearly in the Brothers’ Grimm style but is not based on a single source. The title is similar to a Grimm tale translated as “The Singing, Springing Lark.”
  • The colorful, artificial storybook look crafted by art director Erich Zander is a huge part of the film’s success. Zander began his career working as a co-art director with in the early 1920s, before the Expressionist titan became a director and emigrated to Hollywood.
  • Das Singende, Klingende Bäumchen was the 11th highest grossing film ever made in East Germany.
  • The Singing Ringing Tree achieved international prominence when it was broadcast by the BBC in 1964 with English language voiceover narration as an installment in the series “Tales from Europe.” It became a staple of British children’s programming and was screened as late as the 1990s. The broadcasts were so memorably strange and scarring they were parodied four decades later by “The Fast Show” as “Ton Swingingen Ringingen Bingingen Plingingen Tingingen Plinkingen Plonkingen Boingingen Tree.”
  • A sound sculpture erected by architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu in Burnley, Lancashire, England in 2006 is named “The Singing Ringing Tree” in tribute to this movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Singing Ringing Tree offers brilliantly hued proto-psychedelic sets, a despondent prince trapped in a darling fuzzy bear suit, and an evil dwarf with arched eyebrows prancing through a magical Expressionist kingdom, but the unforgettable image has to be the giant mechanical goldfish. A half-functioning robot made out of wire and paper mâché, the goldfish looks like God’s rejected first draft of a sea monster. Eerily, only three parts of him move—his lips, his eyes, and his tail—yet, despite the fact that he was obviously birthed from a nightmare, the Princess finds him to be an adorable companion.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The authentically semi-coherent fairy tale plotting, combined with art direction that’s simultaneously lush and cheesy, create a world that’s defiantly different than the one we know. It’s a rose-colored, romanticized view of the Dark Ages glimpsed through a hole in the Iron Curtain. The Singing Ringing Tree is known in former East Germany (where it was a blockbuster hit in the 1950s) and Britain (where it became a cult item through TV screenings in the 1960s), but this spectacular curiosity still needs to be brought to the attention of the rest of the world.


Clip from The Singing Ringing Tree

COMMENTS: With its obscure Teutonic magic, its timeless kingdoms and mysterious faerie folk, its poetic transformations of princes into bears Continue reading 155. THE SINGING RINGING TREE (1957)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957)

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Max von Sydow, , Nils Poppe, Bengt Ekerot,

PLOT:  A disillusioned knight and his cynical squire return to a 14th century Sweden ravaged

Still from The Seventh Seal (1957)

by the Black Plague; Death comes for the knight, but he entices the Reaper to play a game of chess for his soul.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTThe Seventh Seal is undoubtedly a great movie, but its weirdness is in doubt.  In fact, trying to decide if this film is strange enough to make it on the List almost makes me feel like Antonius Block wondering if there’s a God out there.  As an existential allegory, the film has a significant amount of unreality in its corner; although much of the movie is a starkly realistic portrait of medieval life, Bergman often ignores logic in minor ways when necessary to make his larger metaphorical points.  He also incorporates the fantastic in one major way, by making Death a literal character in the film, a “living, breathing” character who not only plays chess but also poses as a priest and chops down a tree with his scythe.  That’s not much weirdness to go on, though, and the best external support I can find for considering the movie “weird” is the fact that it’s been (inaccurately) tagged with “surrealism” on IMDB.   I’m torn; the weird movie community will need to chime in on this one.

COMMENTS: The Seventh Seal has a big, imposing reputation as a masterpiece of world cinema, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you may be surprised to find that most of what you think you know about it is wrong.  In the first place, it’s not nearly as gloomy as you may have heard.  True, every frame of the film is suffused with the foreknowledge of death—Bergman is very in-your-face with his message that you are going to die, and it’s going to be horrible—but the grim scenes alternate with lighthearted, comic ones.  The entire dynamic between the drunken smith Plog, and his unfaithful wife Maria, and her unlucky paramour Scat, for example, has a tone of bawdy Shakespearean comedy.  The idyllic scenes where the knight enjoys a meal of milk and wild strawberries with the juggler Jof and his family have a warmth that temporarily drives away the chill—even though there is a skull peering over the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957)