12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:
The Little Lost Pony / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). StevenL is flat on his back, electric sweat exuding from every pore, staring up at the textured ceiling with eyes wide, gasping out, "The Horror! The Horror!" We see Gumby in the role of a child. We see Gumby's mother, the Blockheads, Farmer Glen, and learn the "origin" of Gumby's pony pal Pokey-- a match made in Hell. At one point Gumby earns "X"s for eyes as he overconsumes ice cream, and Pokey has one of the most disturbing laughs I have heard recorded on film. I can't help but notice the video versions I find online have had the audio remastered so the dialogue is not nearly as haunting and soul-rending as the original (my copy is from a 1987 VHS videocassette produced by the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing company named "Family Home Entertainment"). Although Pokey supposedly has escaped from an innocent book about farm animals, if you remove the dust jacket you'll find it was a disguise for hiding the content of the real monograph underneath-- The Necronomicon! The gentleman who gave me this video when it was new is someone I have known since 1958 (a year after this episode was created) when we were innocent little kids. Today he is a highly placed and respected member of Olympia's legal community. Sometimes I wonder if he got to where he is by selling his soul to these clay demons. Chilling.
Plane Dumb / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). A racist cartoon where the human Tom and Jerry don blackface before visiting Africa. The act of disguising themselves somehow makes them talk and act like movie stereotype African-Americans. This has more dialogue than I'm used to hearing with this duo. I felt embarrassed as I watched this. Not because we have come a long way since this cartoon was created, but because we still have a long way to go almost 80 years later.
"Clothes Budget" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1954, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Fritz Feld, Bernard Gorcey, Adele Jergens. Joan's attempt at 1950s-style upwomanship concerning an evening gown backfires, leaving her with the fancy gown as the only article of clothing she has to her name. There is a reason fashion and fascism sound so much the same: Hence the tension from which Joan Davis played as a source of comedy. Joan needs to have someone in the 21st century act as her champion, devoting time to bringing attention to her gifted comedic contribution to American culture.
The Killing / directed by Stanley Kubrick (1956, VHS). Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Joe Sawyer. An early effort by director Kubrick where he gets his feet wet, before he discovered the Big Face ploy. This hardboiled heist story is well told, in spite of the fact the narrative is chopped up into nonsequential chunks, not unlike the later Tarantino films supposedly influenced by this work. The Dragnet type choppy and matter of fact narration is sort of comic. And the suspense timing is really off, but Kubrick is already exhibiting talent in his lighting (black and white here) and visual composition. There is a good argument in this motion picture for why private enterprise is really more of a failure than public service during the concluding scenes. The racetrack bits remind me that as I was growing up my Dad would take me to Longacres (a now defunct local horseracetrack), or cheap arcades on the coast, and there was always some guy behind a counter with slicked back hair, a pot belly, cigarette dangling from his lower lip, and a nose exactly like mine who turned out to be a cousin of some sort. The universe as presented in this motion picture is not unfamiliar to me. Anyway, I like the ending of this movie-- Hayden's criminal character has sort of an existential acceptance of responsibility for his fate. Not a great film, but worthy of a view by Kubrick fans.
"Body Swap" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1989, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge. An age old device where characters exchange bodies, in this case Rimmer and Lister. As Rimmer points out, "You've reached that age, Listy. When you're younger you can eat what you like, drink what what you like, and still climb into your 26 inch trousers and zip them closed. Then you reach that age, 24 or 25, your muscles give up with a little white flag and then without any warning at all you're suddenly a fat bastard." For me, that was back in the early 1980s. Depressing. The Cat tells us the meaning of "Jozxyqk."
"Time Enough at Last" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by John Brahm (1959, VHS). Burgess Meredith, Vaughn Taylor, Jacqueline deWit, Rod Serling (narrator). A mild mannered bank clerk has one passion-- reading. His great joy is to sit in the bank vault and quietly enjoy books away from his nagging wife and stern boss. He is in this very vault when an H-bomb devastates the city, leaving him as the sole survivor. As his existence becomes a lonely life in the twisted wreckage, he contemplates suicide, but then discovers the ruins of the public library. Wallowing in books galore, he's in hog heaven until Serling treats us to the trick ending. I don't know why this is one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it usually is mentioned when Boomers get together and recall the stories. I suppose it has to do with the real threat of nuclear war during the early 1960s and how that became branded in our little brains. Even though the carnage of the bomb was really cleaned up for 1959 black and white television and might seem tame by our special effects expectations today, I remember very well this particular installment of the series scared the living crap out of me when I watched it on our old Motorola on Eastside St.
"To Serve Man" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by Richard L. Bare (1962, VHS). Lloyd Bochner, Susan Cummings, Richard Kiel, Rod Serling. A big-craniumed alien race called the Kanamits visit Earth and offer to eradicate hunger, war, and usher in a new Eden. Their manual is a book called "To Serve Man." It almost seems too good to be true. Funny how when Earthlings talk about the questionable promises of the Kanamits it sounds to my ear like the questionable promises of the Candidates. Coincidence? Another enormously popular episode in this series, usually evoking a recitation of the giveaway key line.
"The Plague Sower" (American Gothic) / directed by Mel Damski (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Paige Turco, John Mese. No, this isn't H1N1. One of the creepier entries into this series, leaning more on the horror aspect. The lines between Good and Evil become more blurred here, as Merlyn brings down Old Testament style buckets of blood as a form of punishment for sinners. Some major shifts in this soap include formerly good guys (Dr. Matt and Gail) taking irreversible steps to the Dark Side, while Selena edges back to the Light. We also learn Sheriff Buck was at one time in his past a soldier against Evil. A new character is introduced, another doctor, who appears to be the most formidable human the unearthly Buck has yet to encounter. Nice soundtrack, good special effects.
The Cameraman / directed by Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton (uncredited) (1928, VHS). Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey, Harold Gribbon, Vernon Dent (uncredited). One of Keaton's last great silent pictures. Playing the stoic-faced but plucky little underdog, Buster attempts to make a name for himself as a newsreel cameraman. Two scenes really stick out. First, Keaton has a bit involving several flights of stairs, and a creative "elevator crane" was used, cutaway fashion. The effect is almost like reading a comic strip, panel to panel. Second, one part of the story has Keaton, with a little monkey on his back, running around Chinatown in the midst of a violent gang war-- a scene which taken out of context and viewed by itself is almost Dada-like. Although this is a wonderful film, it doesn't seem quite as tight, focused, or outrageous as some of his other silent feature-length movies. But he was still the greatest silent film comedian. I even have a cat named Buster, in his honor.
Grampy's Indoor Outing / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936, DVD). Mae Questel (uncredited voice). When rain prevents Betty Boop and the Little Jimmy from going to the carnival, the kid has a meltdown and throws a fit. Instead of teaching the little monster a lesson about how to deal with disappointment, Grampy steps in and provides the brat with an indoor amusement park cleverly created from common household items as only Fleischer could dream up. And they said we Boomers were spoiled!? Now the truth comes out! Anyway, who is this Little Jimmy and why does Betty Boop always seem to be taking care of him? Little Jimmy would be in 70s now, and a cartoon updating us on what happened to this kid (if he aged like normal humans) might be a nice project for one of my comix art colleagues out there. But not me. I'm strictly a lines on paper guy, animation is not my thing.
Point of Honor / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). Gumby and Prickle (apparently a dinosaur of uncertain origin) fight over a totally stupid "point of honor" involving a shapeless glob of toxic waste with long eyelashes named "Goo." An episode demonstrating the idiocy of both genders in certain social rituals. Easily one of the most insipid animations I've seen in a long time. Bad even by Gumby standards. And that's pretty bad. The usual Gumby weird cadence of speech is evident here.
Pots and Pans / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). One of the better efforts by Van Bueren Studios concerning the human Tom and Jerry. This primitive but funny animation includes lots of "suicide food" as our heroes operate a diner. The music in the kitchen made up of household items was wonderful. It reminded me of an Evergreen retreat back on the mid-1970s, somewhere up in Mason County where a lodge type kitchen existed. We students were cleaning the diningware and as we had possession of the utensils started to jam. It was magical and one of my best remembered spontaneous musical moments.